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Head On by Carl Hayman

Head On is a powerful memoir that delves into the dark side of rugby. Carl Hayman, a former All Black, shares his personal journey of success and the devastating toll it has taken on his life.

He exposes the pressure faced by professional athletes, where the pursuit of excellence collides with the commercial demands of the sport. From the shocking loss in the 2007 Rugby World Cup to his decision to leave New Zealand and play overseas for his family’s financial security. He secured a contract playing for the Newcastle Falcons in England and became one of the best-paid players in the world.

Carl also reflects on how he found himself on the fast track to become an All Black, and combined with the Southern Man rugby ethos, he developed a dangerous relationship with alcohol. He explains how the testosterone-fuelled, play-hard, drink-hard rugby culture of the time saw him regularly combine painkillers and alcohol to get through to another match day. Later in his career, as captain of French club Toulon he realised the glory was fleeting and the damage was permanent.

However, the greatest hidden cost of Carl’s dream career is his battle with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), both conditions typically associated with older people. Despite being in his early 40s, Carl confronts the harsh reality of brain degeneration and raises questions about the long-term consequences of a career in rugby. Through various treatments and the support of his family, he continues to search for answers.

Head On is devastatingly raw and serves as a wake-up call, urging us to reconsider how we nurture young athletes and prompting a deeper understanding of the unintended consequences that our choices can have on ourselves and others.

Reviewer: Andrea Molloy HarperCollins


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