Crusaders await Dagg's rebirth after experiment

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 04/03/2013

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EXPERIMENTAL FAILURE: Israel Dagg's switch to the wing should be a short-lived affair, says Richard Knowler.

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OPINION: That grisly episode at Eden Park should signal the end of the Israel Dagg experiment.

Blaming Dagg's efforts on the Crusaders' left wing for the 34-15 defeat to the Blues is too simplistic but witnessing opponents' profit by targeting his touchline - three tries in the first half - will surely destroy any notion of playing the All Black out of position again.

There is also another reason to return him to fullback. Dagg is a confidence player; he appears to feed off his own energy and success. When he gathers a high ball to rip back against the defensive grain or steps past bewildered tacklers the excitement it generates is almost tangible.

Last month Dagg said he wanted to honour the Crusaders with consistent performances.

By his own admission he hadn't made it happen in his previous two seasons: in 2011 he suffered a serious hip injury, while last year he struggled with the post-World Cup syndrome that appeared to affect All Blacks team-mates such as Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock.

Life in the No 15 jersey has to begin again for Friday night's match against the Hurricanes, with Todd Blackadder inserting Tom Marshall or Johnny McNicholl (if fit) on the left wing.

When Blackadder spoke to The Press yesterday his reflections of the dud performance against the Blues were far removed from the hysterical keening heard from some anxious Crusaders fans.

He was adamant about two things: the Blues had produced a sizzling performance and fixing his side's problems was not going to require bloodletting at the selection table or sadistic drills on the training park.

The defensive lapses, he maintained, could be corrected and he was encouraged by the set pieces, particularly the Crusaders winning four of their opponents' throws. Remaining calm is understood to be one of Blackadder's strengths. He is not the type to arrive at work with bloodshot eyeballs and a nervous stammer after another sleepless night.

But he wouldn't have been so pleased about another string of damning statistics, though. They are shocking: missed tackles (24), penalties (11), handling errors (11) and turnovers (17).

Beating the win-less Hurricanes at the Cake Tin on Friday night will require more than just a reduction in the error count.

Playmaker Dan Carter was too quiet at Eden Park and centre Robbie Fruean must use the return to Wellington as a starting point for a season that promised plenty for the Crusaders but has begun on such a disappointing note. That, in turn, could lead to the rebirth of the mercurial Dagg at fullback.

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