Israel Dagg winging it again for Crusaders
There's an elephant in the room and his name is Israel Dagg.
You get the feeling the Crusaders management would prefer the countdown to tomorrow night's match against the Stormers to not be dominated by the debate about Dagg's switch to the left wing.
With the winless Crusaders still nursing emotional bruises from last weekend's 35-24 loss to the Blues, Dagg, ditched to the reserves for the Eden Park clash, was expected to be recalled to fullback.
Instead coach Todd Blackadder, who has made seven changes for the Stormers match, has listed him in the No 11 jersey.
"It will probably be more the media that focus on him playing out of position but that's not such a big deal when it comes to getting an opportunity to go out and play," Blackadder stated.
However, it's not just the fourth estate who are crawling all over this issue. Many supporters have expressed surprise. Now they can only hope that Blackadder has made the right call.
Although injuries to Zac Guildford (back strain) and Nafi Tuitavake (hamstring) have limited the wing options, the backline could still have been re-shuffled to allow Dagg to play in his preferred No 15 jersey.
Slade has experience on the wing, as has Rob Thompson, who has been dropped after the Blues game. Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo, who recently joined the squad from Japan, will play for the Crusaders development team this weekend. Adam Whitelock is another option but is battling injury.
Blackadder said there was little temptation to put Slade on the wing, a position he filled for much of the 2009 season with the Crusaders.
"We resisted that urge. Fullback and wing, to be honest, are no different to where you position yourself from set piece."
Dagg would undoubtedly prefer to play in the No 15 jersey, labelling his positional shift as a "bit of a surprise".
"But I want to be playing rugby . . . If it is at wing or at fullback, I will do what the coaches want and hopefully do the best job out there."
Assistant coach Aaron Mauger gave him the news, explaining the coaches were happy with Slade's effort at fullback.
"He [Mauger] just spoke to me and said, ‘Do you want to play wing?' and I said, ‘Anywhere to start'," Dagg added. "If it keeps me off the bench or from being dropped I'm happy."
Slade scored a try from a set-play in the first half against the Blues but his performance wasn't error free.
A mix up with Reynold Lee-Lo led to the Blues' George Moala scoring a try, and he was skinned on the outside when a runaway Tevita Li grabbed his five pointer.
Following his axing last week Dagg fielded queries from his supporters about his swift demise and is certain to receive more questions this week.
"I don't take it personally. I have got a job that if I don't perform I get dropped. That's rugby.
"And not like last year, it didn't take 13 rounds [to get dropped]. It took just one round."
Blackadder's other changes involve Johnny McNicholl returning to the right wing, Willi Heinz at halfback, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock named as flankers - for the injured Richie McCaw (fractured thumb) and George Whitelock (adductor muscle), Luke Romano to lock and Wyatt Crockett to loosehead prop.