Book review: Bullet Proof

As Christmas approaches, we review former Springbok hooker James Dalton’s compelling book: Bullet Proof.

One thing to understand is that this is James Dalton’s story and therefore the reader shouldn’t over-analyse what he says and look for the author to form his own opinions or probe the subject.

Dalton took nearly 25 years after winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup to air his story and chose the right author to work with.

The author’s writing style compliments Dalton’s words, so much so that at times you can hear the former Springbok’s voice in your head as you read this page turner.

To this end Mark Keohane has done a solid job in capturing Dalton’s tone – and trust.

The book’s title is fitting in its simplicity and an accurate summation of the individual. Along life’s path he has been faced with choices, situations, confrontations and given his relationships with notorius characters it could be said that ‘Bulletproof’ is apt.

For some of his friends and associates have succumbed to the underworld and haven’t been able to reform themselves, as Dalton has done.

There is plenty of regret and a fair degree of anger – some of it at himself and choices he made, but mostly at the world and circumstances that conspired against him – woven through his story.

When you read it, you might also find yourself thinking that if it were to be made into a movie then former Wimbledon football hardman, turned actor, Vinny Jones, could play Dalton.

Given that Dalton chose to tell his story a quarter of a century after that World Cup success, you have to respect his opinions of former players and coaches and applaud his no-holds bar of name-dropping. For what he writes can’t be considered as knee-jerk reaction.

For the rugby follower he chronicles his career, starting at Jeppe where he was coached by Jake White, but is brutal in his assessment of the 2007 World Cup winner, and weaves his way through to where he hung up his boots after playing in 43 Tests for the Springboks.

Dalton’s respect for Nick Mallett as a coach shines through, with the opposite applying to White, Laurie Mains, Carel du Plessis and Gert Smal, amongst others. A strong of former teammates, especially Japie Mulder, described as a ‘pussy’, get both barrels from Dalton’s Gatling gun tale.

It’s also clear that while the 1995 Springboks might have united South Africa, the actual members of that squad are anything but a closely-knit family 25 years later. Dalton’s passion for rugby, the Springboks is evident throughout the book, as does his loyalty to friends and those people he trusts, even if he has made mistakes along life’s path.

Dalton allows himself to be stripped bare for the reader, another compliment to Keohane’s writing style which amplifies the former player’s voice and a reader’s experience invariably will be that they find it hard to put down once started.

That underlining anger shines through – at failed relationships, whether that be in intimate relationships or people he chose as friends, some of which met a violent end – and himself being wronged, an example being that infamous Rugby World Cup match against Canada in Port Elizabeth, when Dalton received a red card that cost him a place in the final.

He is also unafraid to shine the torch on his private life, especially his relationships and love for his children.

A recreational drug culture within the Springboks at the time is revealed; the really inquisitive reader might wonder why, with so many other individuals fingered in the book, others are unnamed, but again, it’s Dalton’s story and its his right to tell it the way he wants to.

Ultimately, you have to respect Dalton for opening himself up to the degree that he has, and applaud Keohane for the tabloid-type manner he has deliberately told the story in. – Gary Lemke

*Get a signed copy of Bullet Proof – The James Dalton Story, for only R199!

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