Israel Dagg wants to return to fullback - and who could blame him?
After being stranded out of position on the left wing, watching helplessly as those inside him shuffled the ball sideways in the Crusaders' heavy defeat to the Blues on Friday, Dagg wants to be back where he can make an impact.
Sure, Dagg has produced some quality rugby for the All Blacks on the wing, but he's the world's best fullback and, naturally, feels more comfortable in the roaming role at the back.
"Hopefully next week I'll get back to fullback and play where I love," Dagg said. "In that first half it was tough to get into the game. We didn't get much ball and we felt like we were on defence the whole time."
With Zac Guildford undergoing treatment for his ongoing off-field issues, Kurt Baker injured and having let Sean Maitland walk out the door to join Scotland, the Crusaders are light on outside back options.
For his side's season opener, after having a first-round bye, Todd Blackadder elected to put Tom Taylor, a first-five, at fullback and station Dagg out wide.
The ploy backfired.
The red-and-blacks lacked any form of penetration and deception. They struggled to break the rock-solid Blues' defensive structures set in stone by Sir Graham Henry, even when they gained an even share of the ball in the second half.
"You've got to commend the Blues. They're a force to be reckoned with this year," Dagg said.
Blackadder has talked openly about adopting an enterprising style in an effort to break the five-year title drought - in essence attacking more - but against Sir John Kirwan's men there was no imagination or creativity from the rusty seven-time champions. It was one-dimensional. Five tries to none emphasises the contrast.
"The structures were there. We just lacked urgency, someone to put their hand up and have a crack," Dagg offered. "It's frustrating. We had them on their line but we couldn't take our opportunities."
The Hawke's Bay flier is wasted on the wing. There, he can't display his trademarks - injecting himself in the backline, popping up at first receiver to create chances for others and spotting holes in the opposition line.
At Eden Park, he was barely sighted, until the closing stages when he was denied a try for a double-movement. "If I was held I would have stopped," he said of the decision. "It's out of my hands. It's the TMO's decision and he didn't give me the try."
Moving Dagg to fullback is a no-brainer. It may help solve some of the high-ball issues and allow him to take some playmaking responsibilities off Dan Carter, who also appeared rusty without front-foot ball. Shifting Dagg isn't the answer to all concerns, however.
If they are to be a force this season, the Crusaders need more from their lacklustre midfield combination. Robbie Fruean was easily contained and Ryan Crotty had a bad case of the fumbles.
After back-to-back losses, the hurting Hurricanes will demand much better next week.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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