For much of the last two decades, the All Blacks have
been blessed with an array of classy fullbacks.
John Timu, Christian Cullen, Glenn Osborne, Jeff Wilson, Leon
MacDonald and Mils Muliaina suited up for often lengthy
spells in the No 15 jersey.
Now it is Israel Dagg's turn, another player with an array of
stunning athletic gifts he has honed to fit the demands of
Like many of his teammates, Dagg has helped shift the All
Blacks' style to one that uses possession, skills and aerobic
grunt to stretch the opposition. However, Dagg knows he needs
to keep performing.
After lasting just 26 minutes against Scotland before a heavy
collision sent him from the field, the All Blacks looked at
Beauden Barrett for the future then cocked an eye at Cory
Jane as their fullback insurance. In his 26-minute appearance
as a substitute fullback, he ignited a flickering All Black
It's probably just the stimulus Dagg and the All Blacks need
for this weekend's test against Wales. Taunts from defence
coach Shaun Edwards at the World Cup that Wales would have
rattled the All Blacks if they had played the final will help
too. The All Blacks will be determined to prolong their
opponents' recent run of misery.
The medics have given Dagg the green light to return to full
training after his mishap. His attitude has changed since he
began his All Black career with some cameo spells from the
bench. He knows his concentration can wander and that he has
to be in the zone for the entire 80 minutes.
"Back in the day I would come on for 20 minutes and just try
and make an impact, but here I've got to do this role and do
the basics properly."
Dagg's selection for Sunday is certain, but Steve Hansen and
Ian Foster have had some bristly discussions as they worked
through the choices in a few positions.
"There is nothing too scientific about it, at that point you
just go on your gut feel," Foster said.
They expect Wales' focus to be very sharp because they will
likely target this game as retribution for their mishaps
against the Pumas and Samoa. They will do everything to
staunch the 59-year losing stretch against the visitors.
Wales will bring great passion, they will be physical with
the ball and at breakdowns and they will look for continuity
and defend with intensity.
The All Blacks would be equally ready after two torrid
physical encounters with Scotland and Italy.
Dagg has only heard about the vocal crowds and great arena
after injury took him out of the trip two years ago. He hoped
conditions would get warmer but the forecasters were not
- By Wynne Gray in Cardiff