Head On

An All Black's memoir of rugby, dementia, and the hidden cost of success


An All Black's memoir of rugby, dementia, and the hidden cost of success

'The best sports book I have read in decades' - Kevin Norquay, Stuff

'Startlingly honest' - Phil Gifford

'A brilliant read. Bold, brave and honest' - Mike Hosking, Newstalk ZB

Carl Hayman, All Black #1000, once the most highly prized player in world rugby and a giant of the game in every sense - someone who was always respected, even feared. But at the end of seventeen years as a professional rugby player, the last eight played with the sole aim of setting up his family's future, Hayman's life began to unravel in nightmarish fashion.

Head On is about the pressures on the modern athlete, where physical performance and commerce collide, and players become victims of their own success.

Exploited then left out in the cold, Hayman is now left counting the hidden cost of the achievements that would have exceeded any young rugby player's dreams. He now fears both the known and the unknown with equal trepidation. as he looks for answers to dementia and a degenerative brain condition called CTE.

In Head On, Hayman relives a remarkable rugby career, with revelations about the shock All Blacks loss to France in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the decisions to leave New Zealand and play for the Newcastle Falcons in England, in doing so becoming one of the best-paid players on the planet, and how being put on the fast track to the All Blacks as a youngster combined with the Southern Man rugby ethos in Dunedin caused him to develop a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

This book is about how we can better understand the unintended consequences of the decisions we make, and how we can better serve the next generation.

About the author(s)

Carl Joseph Hayman is a retired New Zealand rugby player who played at tighthead prop, making 45 appearances for the All Blacks. Hayman has previously played for the Otago Highlanders in Super Rugby, Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership, and French side Toulon, where he captained the side to victory in the 2015 European championship. Hayman announced his retirement from professional rugby in January 2015, aged 35, having played 445 games of professional rugby. Post retirement Hayman has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He lives in Taranaki, New Zealand.

Dylan Cleaver has spent the better part of three decades covering sport. Now the publisher of sports newsletter The Bounce, Cleaver has worked for mastheads such as the New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times, Sunday News and Irish Examiner, as well as contributing regularly to websites The Spinoff, Cricket Monthly and CODE Sports.

Cleaver has won close to 40 national journalism awards, including Best Investigation at the Canon Media Awards in 2015 for his work on match-fixing allegations involving former New Zealand cricketers. He has been named Sports Journalist of the Year on multiple occasions, including 2022, where he was recognised in part for a feature article on Carl Hayman, and in 2017 for his groundbreaking work linking the high rates of dementia in former rugby players with head injuries suffered in their playing days.

Cleaver was raised in New Plymouth and now lives on the North Shore of Auckland with his wife Michelle and two teenage children Liam and Libby.

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