All Blacks focusing on waterproofing in Napier

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:05 03/09/2014
BACK IN?: Israel Dagg was fully involved in yesterday’s training, suggesting a possible start at fullback against Argentina in Napier on Saturday night.
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BACK IN?: Israel Dagg was fully involved in yesterday’s training, suggesting a possible start at fullback against Argentina in Napier on Saturday night.

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Dealing with Hawke's Bay's big wet has become an unavoidable factor.

Rain has fallen consistently since the All Blacks flew into town to prepare for Saturday's Rugby Championship test against Argentina at McLean Park.

As much as coaches like to dismiss the weather, there can be merit in changing tack for the conditions, something the All Blacks struggled to do only three short weeks ago when they drew with Australia on a sodden night in Sydney.

All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster had checked the long range forecast before the squad trained on Napier Old Boys Marist's slippery No 1 field at Park Island yesterday.

He could have also glanced out the window of the team bus and seen the temporary lakes and rivers forming in the farmers' paddocks.

Whatever the case, Foster agreed the midweek training conditions may end up being ideal on match night.

''It's been good training today in the wet, it will prepare us well. We went into our shell in [Sydney], in terms of our catch pass and we started to slow down everything we did and that means your attack gets nullified,'' Foster said.

The next question is whether the conditions will have any bearing on selection? Would this be the ideal time to re-introduce Israel Dagg's assured positional play and big boot at fullback?

Foster wasn't giving anything away, but the sight of Cory Jane in a full tracksuit and playing halfback during the skills session raised one or two eyebrows among the watching media.

Whatever the case, Dagg struck an energetic figure as he went through a drill that saw loose forwards Kieran Read and Liam Messam team up with the outside backs.

''There is no nostalgia around the selection table around local people,'' Foster said in reference to Dagg being a Hawke's Bay player.

''Our deliberations are what we think is best for the team right now. We have some interesting decisions.''

Wet weather has aided Argentina's cause in New Zealand since they entered the Rugby Championship.

The All Blacks' 21-5 win in Wellington in 2012 was played on a wild night in the Capital, while last year's 28-13 win in Hamilton was played in persistent rain.

Such conditions suit the bulky Argentine pack and in five-eighth's Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Hernandez they have two players with a canny array of kicking skills.

Foster noted the Pumas' tactical kicking game was more varied and attack-minded than in previous seasons during their two close losses to South Africa.

''One of their great strengths is they have natural punters of the ball. They are now using that and intertwining it with a smarter strategy about where they kick,'' he said.

''Rather than just kicking long or high they are being a bit more thoughtful. There weren't a lot of counter-attack opportunities for South Africa last week so Argentina have done a good job of that.''

Whether he starts at fullback or wing, Ben Smith said the outside backs needed to do a better job than they had in Sydney if the expected wet weather continued.

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''We probably didn't adapt to conditions as well as we would have liked in Sydney, so it was a good chance to get out there today to try our skills in the wet, which might happen again on Saturday.

''The back three needs to be smart in how we play the game when its wet. Territory obviously becomes more important ... catch and pass, you have to adjust your skills and make sure you take a bit more depth, concentrate a wee bit more and be more effective when you have the ball."

- Stuff

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