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Dagg regains flair, keeping faith with coach

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2013
Israel Dagg
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
BACK TO BEST: Israel Dagg showed his form of old on Saturday night.

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Interrogating Steve Hansen about Israel Dagg's form can be an unpredictable affair.

Since declaring Dagg as his top fullback for the opening two tests against France, All Blacks coach Hansen has steadfastly maintained criticism of the No 15 has been unwarranted and predicted it was only a matter of time before his "magic" returned.

Stating otherwise within Hansen's earshot risks eliciting a heated response. Such disapproval, he states, is unwarranted.

At AMI Stadium on Saturday night Dagg re-paid the faith of his coach, who maintains he is one of the world's best at taking kicks in the air, by being safe under high ball, defending accurately and showing glimpses of his counter-attacking flair.

Is it likely his confidence levels ahead of the third test in New Plymouth benefited from this?

"Well, it's good," Hansen said. "For a change there's something positive being written about him in the paper."

Dagg was not perfect; he could have passed to an unmarked Julian Savea when he ducked for the tryline in the first half.

But for a variety of reasons Hansen now has the upper-hand in the subject of whether Dagg should be in his team and that he was right to retain the faith.

Dagg topped the statistics sheet in ball carries (16) and metres made (95m).

His raking punts also proved valuable to the All Blacks' plan of kicking for space and utilising the slippery conditions to pin the French inside their own half.

"It's great having the backing of your coach," Dagg said.

"I don't worry about what other people say. It's on me and I just have to worry about what I do out there and do my job well.

"I've just been happy about the preparation in the last couple of weeks."

The next chapter in this story will be added this week.

If Hansen makes changes to his side, and a couple appear imminent, he may be tempted to leave Dagg at fullback to allow him to keep building on his form.

"I've just got to what is right for the team," Dagg noted. "We've got some great players that are chomping at the bit. Charles Piutau is a classy player and if he gets that opportunity I just have to help him prepare."

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