Dan Lydiate on battling back in memory of his dad and life beyond rugby
Throughout his career, Dan Lydiate has demonstrated a driven determination to fight his way back from injury.
After all, this is someone who broke his neck while playing rugby as a teenager and is still going strong some 16 years later.
Yet his motivation for returning from his latest lay-off – due to a broken arm suffered on Wales duty – was greater than ever. He was intent on doing it for his father.
His dad John, a hill farmer, passed away suddenly in early November. Just a few days later, Lydiate played through the heartbreak against Argentina only to suffer the injury that was to leave him facing another battle to return to the field.
Once again, he has fought his way back and is now ready to pack down for the Ospreys at home to his old team the Dragons in the BKT URC this Saturday.
Talking ahead of that derby date at the Swansea.com Stadium, the flanker spoke movingly about what he went through in the autumn with the loss of his father.
“It happened the Friday night before the Wales-New Zealand game,” he said.
“I was obviously disappointed not to be selected for that match.
“I remember I texted my mum to tell her I wasn’t picked and she replied ‘Don’t worry, everything happens for a reason’.
“Because I wasn’t playing, I went up to the family farm after training on the Friday. I did some bits on the farm, fed the cows and stuff and then had tea with my parents.
“Then, later that night, my old man passed away. If I had been playing, I wouldn’t have seen him before he went. It’s strange how things work out.”
The following week, Lydiate was chosen to start on the blindside against the Pumas at the Principality Stadium.
“I went straight back into training on the Monday because I just felt like I had to get on with normality. Being sat in the house would have been too upsetting,” he explained.
“It was a tough week emotionally and mentally. I didn’t sing the anthem before the match because, to be honest, I was crying my eyes out. Then you have got to fix your focus to the game.”
As fate would have it, Lydiate snapped a bone in his arm just five minutes into the match. Typical of his warrior nature, he soldiered on, before eventually coming off just before the half hour.
“It was a tough time and then a couple of weeks later having the funeral,” he said.
“It’s one of those things you don’t really get over. You just learn to live with it.”
He turned to his rehab as a focus for moving forward.
“I wanted to get back for my old man. It was definitely a real motivation,” he revealed.
Injury has been part and parcel of Lydiate’s rugby life since he suffered a neck fracture aged just 19 while playing for the Dragons out in Perpignan in 2007.
“It definitely instilled a bit of character in me as a youngster,” he said.
“I have had a lot of injuries in my career and, if I didn’t love what I do, I would have hung up my boots a long, long time ago.
“But, like everyone says, you are a long time retired. At least I know when I hang up my boots that I will have put 100 per cent into it and never given up. Then when my time is done, my time is done.
“For now, I still want to play on. There’s certainly a will and a want to do so, as I want to be the one that decides when I am done, not anyone else.”
Out of contract
The 69-times capped Lydiate, who is now 34, is out of contract at the Ospreys at the end of this season.
“I haven’t got an offer at the minute, so I am just going to go hell for leather for these next few games and see what happens,” he said.
“Running-wise, I am probably the fittest I have ever been. I am good to go at the minute.
“I felt like I was playing the best rugby of my career out in South Africa last summer. The victory over the Springboks in Bloemfontein was probably one of my better performances in a Welsh jersey up there with the Grand Slam game against France in 2012.
“Then I broke my arm in the autumn. But it’s only five months ago I was starting for Wales, so there’s no reason why I can’t play at least regional rugby.
“I guess if it’s meant to be I will get a contract and if it’s not then something else is lined up for me in the stars.”
When he does finally call it a day, Lydiate’s focus will switch fully to the family hill farm just north of Llandrindod Wells, bang in the middle of Wales.
“My mother and brother have a flock of 400 breeding ewes and I have got a herd of pedigree Welsh black cattle. Then, last year, I started a free-range organic egg business.
“I sell to the Ospreys boys and I am good friends with Rhodri Jones at the Dragons, so he takes a load of eggs up there for me.”
Father-of-two Lydiate, who is based in Ammanford, adds: “I probably try and get up to the farm twice a week.
“I am not there every day because my main job is still a professional rugby player. If I need help, I will get my brother and mum to help me. It’s kind of like a joint effort.
“It’s obviously something I will go into post-rugby. It’s hard graft and tough to make money at farming. But if you work at something, I am sure it will come.
“That’s basically the motto I have had during my rugby career as well. Hopefully it will be a good skill I have picked up from there to transfer into my life after rugby.”
For the time being though, it’s another egg business that continues to take his attention, with the Dragons providing the opposition in the BKT URC this weekend.
“I spent the best part of seven years with them. That’s where it all started for me, so they’ve always got a fond place in my heart,” he said.
“I enjoy playing against them because their fans are class. I usually get a bit of heckling from them which is good fun. The last time, some fan shouted ‘You are welcome back any time Dan’ which was a nice touch.”
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A great player and ambassador for Wales and a really lovely man with it. He needs a contract for next season if only to mentor Will Griffiths.