A life on the pitch

During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, ISS Editor Steve Wright caught up with one of England’s biggest rugby stars, Lawrence Dallaglio

After a school career at King’s House School, Richmond and Ampleforth College, Lawrence Dallaglio went onto a glittering rugby career that included 18 years’ service with Wasps and 12 years with the England national side.

The latter featured two successful spells as captain during England’s most successful era – World Cup winners in 2003, finalists four years later. Lawrence also had the honour of being the only England squad member to play every minute of that victorious 2003 campaign.

On retiring from the professional game, Lawrence set up the Dallaglio Foundation, a charity that aims to nurture and develop the skills of disadvantaged young people – using rugby to foster a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem, and to encourage better life choices.

The Dallaglio Foundation has recently announced a partnership with leading sportswear and accessories brand Under Armour, who are the Foundation’s official kit supplier for 2015/16.

What are your sporting memories from your school days?

I really enjoyed my time at both King’s House and Ampleforth, and sport played a huge part in my personal and social development. Football was my first love – I was captain at King’s House – but I had a go at anything. Ampleforth was, at first, a difficult transition.

Leaving a London day school to board up in Yorkshire was a challenge. Rugby was nearly as important as religion there – I counted 27 pitches on my first day! I was fortunate to be coached by Frank Booth and John Wilcox, both great coaches and great men.

How did school life help your sporting development?

I learned a huge amount about fitness, discipline and teamwork. Above all I learned that your work ethic and desire to reach the top is what really sets you apart. I never really played for the 1st XV at Ampleforth – which proves that success can come later! The facilities, levels of fitness and coaching were incredible.

The first XV would practice lineouts and penalty moves every day for 30 minutes. Funnily enough, I don’t ever remember seeing them lose a lineout! I also played Sevens for the school, and the fitness programme there was as hard as anything I’ve ever done. I learned early on that the human body can be pushed very hard indeed.

What are your memories of school life beyond the sports field?

My school life was incredibly enjoyable, as it should be. I am immensely grateful to my parents for making some huge sacrifices for my education. I made great friends, and I left school much wiser, still humble and hungry. My biggest regret is that I never really made the most of all the opportunities available, especially with my studies. I could have worked so much harder to get better results. 

What has been your own sporting highlight thus far, and why?

Playing for my country, for me, remains the greatest honour sport can offer. You represent the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions – and that is something very special. I had that privilege on 85 occasions. I feel as though I’ve had three lifetimes in one career.

Who were the shining stars during your England days?

There were international players I admired, but I’m proud to say that the very best were English. Martin Johnson, Jason Leonard, Richard Hill, Neil Back, Will Greenwood, Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Robinson were among the greatest players of any era. 

What was your greatest challenge, or lowest point? 

Professional sport throws all sorts of challenges at you and, no matter how strong we may be, we all experience self-doubt at some point. Losing was never a nice feeling, and injuries are alwayss hard to deal with. Breaking my leg in New Zealand on the 2005 Lions tour was a tough experience – and, at 33, an even tougher road back. Many people wrote me off after that, buy I came back to play for England again and won the Premiership with Wasps.

How did the Dallaglio Foundation come about?

I have been lucky to enjoy an extraordinary career in rugby, working with some of the great players and learning a lot about myself along the way. I come from a very loving background – which, with an Italian father and Irish mother, should come as no surprise. But we have experienced tragedy along the way, with the passing of my mother in her fifties to cancer and the devastation of losing my sister at the tender age of 18 in the 1989 Marchioness Disaster.

Rugby was my saviour, and the focus I needed to get through these tragedies. So, during my testimonial year, I used all I had learned about teamwork to pull together a phenomenal group of people and to raise over £1 million for charity. This led me, on retirement, to set up the Foundation.

What is the Foundation’s mission?

Our mission is to help young people tackle life’s challenges through the power of rugby. We believe the game can instil positivity and respect, giving young people employability and a better start in life. We do this through an in-school programme called RugbyWorks that helps repair damaged lives, while also empowering and equipping young people to change their lives, remain in education and become more employable.

As a parent, I see how exposure to many life experiences helps shape children’s thinking and provides insights into their life choices. Many of the young people we work with don’t have that privilege, and so that is one of the key things we try to provide.

And what are your methods?

We all understand the importance of structure around a curriculum and teaching. Kids need routine, but they also need other social stimulus to help develop their characters. Many of the young people we work with are very bright – they just need different triggers to motivate them. Our coaches work to understand what will switch on that light for them, and help them to make positive life decisions.

We already operate in 12 London boroughs, plus Newcastle, Bristol and the Rhondda Valley. But we are now in a position where demand exceeds supply.
My ambition is to take the scheme into the north-west this coming academic year

Why is rugby such a powerful tool in turning around young lives?

Rugby instils some key values – respect, teamwork, communication – that, often, our young people don’t have. Each term we hold an inter-school tournament, featuring young people from Pupil Referral Units. These are places which handle some of the most volatile and most vulnerable young people. Because the chances of conflict are so high, we’ve found that most don’t get the chance to compete against other PRUs – but they clearly love it!

In one recent game I witnessed, one winger hauled his opposite man to the ground. The two players dusted themselves off without recrimination, touched palms briefly in a small measure of respect, and hustled back to their teams. That’s what RugbyWorks is about. 

What are your hopes for the new partnership with Under Armour?

We have been looking for a kit partner for a while, and it was important to partner with a brand that bought into what we are trying to achieve. I have always admired Under Armour’s desire to support grassroots sport – and I needed a good quality, professional kit for our coaches. Under Armour totally fit the brief on both scores. Support like this is invaluable to the charity.

To discuss your school sportswear requirements with Under Armour, call 01633 866048 or email enquiries@underarmourteamsports.co.uk.


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