Dagg gives Barrett tips, but not his fullback spot
Israel Dagg isn't about to hand over his All Blacks' jersey, but he has endorsed Beauden Barrett's fullback credentials.
In little more than a year, Dagg has become such an integral part of the All Blacks that not only does he have no clear replacement, but it seems he has been established for some time.
At last year's World Cup he surged past veteran fullback Mils Muliana and, since then, has started all 12 matches for the All Blacks. He has played all but nine minutes of this season's 10 tests. No-one else has been needed. He has made the position his own.
Dagg is one of few candidates to play all four games in Europe, with coach Steve Hansen intent on trialling his full 32-man squad in the first two matches.
But if ever there was a logical game to test out other fullback options, it is against the Italians this week.
Before today's match against Scotland, Highlanders utility Ben Smith was favoured for that role after performing solidly at the back during Super Rugby.
Hansen, however, selected Smith at centre and indicated Barrett would get a run at fullback from the bench against the Scots, in what could be a precursor to the Azzurri test in Rome.
"We've got two of them [fullbacks]," Hansen said.
"Barrett can play there and might see some time there [against Scotland]. Ben Smith and Cory Jane can also play there. We've got three options, it's just what team we select."
Jane's start on the right wing today means Taranaki and Hurricanes first five-eighth Barrett has emerged as the front-runner to be named at fullback this week, with Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden expected to take over from Dan Carter.
Naturally, Dagg was reluctant to step back, but he expressed a willingness to give Barrett guidance, as Muliana did last year.
"Beauden is a classy option," Dagg said.
"If he gets an opportunity there he'll go well, but I want to play every test up here and earn that break at the end of the year.
"If Beauden gets that opportunity I'll get in behind him and give him some information and tips."
Now an automatic selection, it is easy to forget Dagg broke into the national team only two years ago.
Hansen was taken aback when he discovered the Hawke's Bay flier, who tore his quad in 2010, hadn't been on an end-of-year tour before.
His previous trips to Europe were with the New Zealand Sevens team and when the Crusaders played the Sharks at Twickenham after the devastating Christchurch earthquakes.
"Even Steve didn't know this was my first end-of-year tour," Dagg said.
"I was injured in 2010 and we didn't come last year with the World Cup.
"Now I've got the opportunity and this is where you get to stamp your mark in the Northern hemisphere. I'm embracing it."
Wintery conditions in Europe may not be conducive to Dagg's attacking instincts, but he was relishing the refreshing prospect of playing Scotland, Italy and England at their historic venues for the first time. He played Wales in his second test.
"There's a lot of history in those grounds," Dagg said.
"We are always playing Australia and South Africa so it's good to taste some new teams. I'm really excited to play the Welsh and the other quality teams."