Rugby: Dagg feels heat of fullback pretenders

Israel Dagg
Israel Dagg
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 his position.

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 performance.

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 optimistic.

- By Wynne Gray in Cardiff

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