Israel Dagg not playing badly, says Hansen
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is keeping the faith in Israel Dagg because he believes the star fullback isn’t playing badly, rather he is missing his normal moments of ‘‘magic’’.
Dagg has been named to start at fullback again this weekend for the second test against the French in Christchurch despite strong word that he would be relegated to the bench with Ben Smith shifting to fullback.
Hansen dispelled any myths that he believed Dagg was out of form and even went as far as to say that his form of last week was on par with anything that he showed 12 months ago in the black jersey.
“I think Izzy is playing as well as he was last year,’’ Hansen said.
“It’s just that he is missing those magic touches and it doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t be magic all the time.
“Those magic bits will come... but the French just didn’t give him a chance to do that last week.’’
Out of form for the Crusaders and dropped from the starting line up by coach Todd Blackadder, 2013 has been a tumultuous time for the usually popular Dagg as he has struggled to get back to the world class form his showed during the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup campaign.
Even without his usual flair, Hansen still feels Dagg has the necessary attributes to contribute to the team.
“I think he is the best high ball catcher in world rugby from a fullback point of view. And that is one of the skill sets you need when you are looking at your back three.
“We would be stupid to lose that skill component. What we want from Israel is his core jobs done well, and he is doing that.’’
In an unchanged starting line up from the side which beat the French in Auckland last weekend, the All Blacks are expected to strip a much more cohesive and improved side this week.
Hansen did suggest he, and his fellow selectors, came close to bringing Tony Woodcock, who has been battling a nose infection and spent two days in hospital, into the starting XV.
“We did feel in some areas we possibly could have brought Tony into the side, but Wyatt (Crockett) played really well last week and he deserves to keep his spot.
“Other than that we didn’t come very close at all to making any changes, at this time of the year you need to get a bit of consistency.’’
Woodcock is joined on the bench by Piri Weepu who also returns from injury and replaces Tawera Kerr-Barlow while Andrew Hore replaces Keven Mealamu in the reserve hooker spot.