Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen defends Dagg

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says Israel Dagg's ability at taking the high ball makes him a crucial component for his side.

Dagg was solid but unspectacular in the All Blacks' scratchy 23-13 win over France at Eden Park which came during another disappointing season with the Crusaders but he will get another chance to impress on his home ground in Saturday's second test.

The 25-year-old has become known for his X-factor for the All Blacks over recent years but Hansen said his ability to recover high kicks was probably his most important quality.

"I think he's the best high-ball catcher in world rugby from a fullback point of view and that's one of the skil-sets you need in the back three,'' said Hansen. "Cory Jane is injured and he's probably the best wing three-quarter high-ball catcher so we'd be stupid to lose that skill component.

"I think Izzy is playing as well as last year minus those magic touches and it doesn't matter who you are, you can't be magic all the time.

What we want from Israel is his core job done well and he's done that. He did that well last week if you go through the game.

"The magic bits will come when the moment for him to be able to do that is available and the French didn't give him any. If you do your research you would say 'right, when he catches it we need to knock him over' and that's what they did. It becomes harder.''

As expected, Hansen did not make any big changes to last week's team. The starting XV remains the same, with loosehead prop Tony Woodcock probably closest to breaking into the run-on team. Instead, he comes on to the reserves bench after returning from a hamstring problem and abscess on his nose, for which he spend two days in hospital in Auckland last week.

Woodcock is one of three changes to the bench - the others see the return of Andrew Hore, who replaces Keven Mealamu, and Piri Weepu, who comes in for Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

"At this time of year you just need consistency so you can get consistency on the park, or improvement in this case,'' Hansen said.

"We felt that in some areas we possibly could have brought Woody in but Crocky played well and deserves the start.''

Hansen admitted left wing Julian Savea's troubles off the field - he is involved in a court case regarding an alleged assault of his partner - was probably playing on the 22-year-old's mind.

"It's well publicised isn't it what's happened off the track and it put a wee comma in his season. Up till then he was playing outstandingly. But it's a lot for a young person or even an older person to handle. It's an unfortunate incident, it's not one that he's proud of or any of us are but it's important that we support him and help him deal with that process. There's a child involved as well which makes it more complicated, but he's working his way through that as are all parties and I'm sure that we'll see the real Julian going forward which is what we want.''

The naming of the French team has been delayed until tonight.

All Blacks team to play France at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger.

- APNZ

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