Israel Dagg best to play at fullback or centre?

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2013
Israel Dagg

BAD MOVE? Crusaders' attack coach Aaron Mauger has said Israel Dagg is a serious contender for the midfield this season.

Israel Dagg
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ
MOVING UP: All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg may get a run at centre with the Crusaders.

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Israel Dagg's conversion to centre last weekend was no joke.

Despite the All Black being rated one of the world's best fullbacks, Crusaders' attack coach Aaron Mauger confirmed Dagg is a serious contender to play in the midfield this season.

Mauger believes Dagg has the skill-set to play in the No 13 jersey, even though he has not played there since his days at Lindisfarne College in Hawke's Bay.

"I look at 'Izzy' and I think he could be an outstanding 13," Mauger said.

"Obviously he is a world-class fullback but it would be good for him to be able to play in another couple of positions. He can already play on the wing and he could give us a little bit at centre as well."

Dagg, 24, was emphatic he wants to remain at fullback but was happy to bow to the coach's wishes.

"I really want to play fullback, that is my position and I love it," Dagg said.

"But I will just play wherever the team wants me."

The first step of this bold plan was revealed during the Crusaders' 38-21 defeat to the Highlanders in Oamaru last Friday and Dagg, in his first outing of the year, was reminded of a centre's responsibilities when Ma'a Nonu swept through his tackle to score the opening try.

"Obviously I have a lot to learn there, just the defence things," Dagg added.

"It is a lot different to fullback, you have to worry about a lot of things around you. It is just getting that confidence - you get the ball in your hands a lot there and that is what I love."

Robbie Fruean has held an iron-grip on the No 13 jersey since joining the Crusaders in 2010, but if Dagg's conversion proves a success his position could be in jeopardy.

Switching Dagg to the midfield would result in Tom Taylor or Tom Marshall playing at fullback.

Mauger said whether Dagg started a competition match at centre could depend on the opposition: "It could give us a horses-for-courses approach.

"Some guys might give us better options in certain jerseys in certain opposition. With Izzy's rugby ability I am certain he would go well in that jersey if required."

Last year the Crusaders started Dagg on the wing, using the quadriceps injury he nursed through the World Cup as the reason for not running him at No 15.

Whatever position he plays, unlocking Dagg's talents will be crucial for the Crusaders if they are to win their first title since 2008.

It must have been galling for head coach Todd Blackadder to see him produce some five-star performances for the All Blacks last season after he failed to strike those lofty standards in Super Rugby. Dagg admits he owes Blackadder.

"I'm my biggest critic and I guess I didn't have the confidence last year but that is behind me," Dagg said.

"I really want to play well and earn that jersey ...

"I'm one of those guys that if I don't do anything right or something goes wrong, I get a bit down on myself."

Meanwhile, the Crusaders will play the Waratahs in a preseason match in Sydney on Thursday night.

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