Dalton recalls his battles with Sean Fitzpatrick

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Dalton, who played 43 Tests, had a chequered career with the game's judiciary and was under suspension when the South Africans beat the All Blacks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.

 

He had toured New Zealand in 1994 but usually made his appearances off the bench and it was the 1996 series in South Africa before he finally started against the All Blacks in the third Test of the series.

 

By that stage, the All Blacks had finally claimed a series on South African soil, at their last chance as tours of the traditional kind became a thing of the past with the advent of professional rugby.

 

Dalton did make it onto the field for the final 15 minutes of the second Test, in Pretoria.

 

"Those final 15 minutes were frantic in that it was all-out South African attack. The crowd noise was incredible and it was as if 50,000 spectators, plus the 15 Boks on the field, were pushing for a final converted try that could keep the series alive," he said in his recently published autobiography Bulletproof.

 

As the third Test was to be played at the fortress of Ellis Park where the All Blacks had struggled through history for success, the Pretoria Test was vital for the All Blacks in getting the job done ahead of the Johannesburg Test.

 

"They knew the significance of a ground that had a reputation for spooking them and the manner in which they defended their line at Loftus [Versfeld, Pretoria] as it was about knowing they'd be incapable of winning the series in Johannesburg.

 

"They hung on, history was made and my 15 minutes against the All Blacks was not one of fame, but pain," Dalton said.

 

 

However, on a personal note, the game provided him with his first chance to play against Sean Fitzpatrick.

 

"I loved testing myself against the player, who for the best part of a decade, had been regarded as the best hooker in Test rugby. He was also the All Blacks captain and individually it didn't get bigger for me than playing against him, with Ireland's Keith Wood, the only hooker in my era who would rival Fitzpatrick's all-round game," he said.

 

Dalton started the final Test of the series in Johannesburg and shared in the South Africa win but the damage had already been done, it was their only win in five Tests against the All Blacks in 1996.

 

"The highlight of my international career was always playing the All Blacks. They came with a reputation and with a presence that commands attention. They were like these black knights in armour and the power of the colour was almost invariably matched with the power of their performance.

 

"The haka was also thrilling to watch because I saw it as a challenge and an invite to go to battle. Some may view the haka as pre-match entertainment but I saw it as the start to the match.

 

"If you weren't switched on facing that haka, you'd never get the chance to switch on during the game. You'd take a beating. I was proud to be a Springbok standing there and understanding the significance of the cultural war dance.

 

"You weren't just playing an opponent, you were playing legacy, history, culture and then the player," he said.

 

 

 

And in Dalton's case that player was Fitzpatrick who he described as 'the most iconic of the All Blacks'.

 

"What I enjoyed about him the most as a player was that he could give it and he could take it, whether it was a chirp, a punch or being cleaned out in a ruck. He was intelligent but he was also hard and in the times that I played him, we never held back when having a go at each other.

 

"He was also so clever in getting an advantage at the scrum engage. For example, in 1996 and 1997 there was no distance in the scrum engage and it was first come, first set and first go. If you and your pack were ready, you went and the opposition ordinarily had to follow.

 

"If you set first, it was a decided advantage, but what he would often do is allow the opposition to set, then retreat and, as you hesitated, he'd move forward with his crotch over your head to mock a mistimed engagement which then forced the referee to pull up the opposing hooker.

 

"It was in that moment, as I was being pulled up by the referee, when he would then engage in tandem with his tighthead prop, who would be slightly in front of him. The two would then hit me at an angle, into the ribs and both would drive me upwards and milk a penalty, or at least plead to the referee for a penalty.

 

"None of it would be legal today but I am sure Fitzpatrick would have found a way to manipulate the scrum and referee if he was still playing," Dalton said.

 

While managing to land the odd blow on Fitzpatrick, Dalton said teammate and lock Mark Andrews believed in the Durban Test of 1998 that one of Dalton's punches resulted in Fitzpatrick's lights going out.

 

"But I wouldn't know because he just kept on playing, scrumming and getting from one set phase to another. His lights may have been out but his motor was still running. He was that kind of player," he said.

 

Dalton added that he liked playing against Fitzpatrick because he never bitched or moaned about getting hit.

 

"Fitzpatrick, like me, accepted that the cuts and bruises came packaged with the position. Both of us were masters of creating just enough of a gap when we engaged for our locks to land an uppercut on the impact of the engage.

 

"It really was old-school stuff but with today's cameras and television match official replays you don't find the dark arts being practised too much. The game really has been cleaned up.

 

"Fitzpatrick was as technical as he was hard. He was good at engaging late and at an angle, so that he could butt you on the top of your eyelid and cut you quickly.

 

"He was generous in his praise after we beat the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 1996 and he was from the old school whose rugby students believed that what happened on the field, stayed on the field," he said.

 

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