Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Dagg set to stake World Cup claim

Israel Dagg. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg. Photo / Getty Images

Israel Dagg is ready to claim the All Black selectors' attention against the Springboks on Sunday.

His injury-time try allowed the All Blacks to escape with a thrilling win against the Springboks last season in Soweto.

Since then Dagg has added just one more test as injuries bit into his international progression. Thigh muscle problems took him out of last year's trip to Europe and then the bulk of this season's Super 15.

He was chosen on past form and medical advice for the All Black squad but his World Cup chances seemed to ebb as he remained on the sidelines.

However, with all the timing of his run to link up with Ma'a Nonu's precision pass for the 29-22 All Black win last August, Dagg is ready to assert his claims in Port Elizabeth this weekend and seems sure to start at fullback.

Four, perhaps five, of the All Blacks who started last year's test are likely to return when the side is announced today.

Captain Keven Mealamu will have his Super 15 buddy Tony Woodcock beside him at loosehead prop and blindside beast Jerome Kaino will probably suit up as well. In the backline, halfback Jimmy Cowan appears as though he will be the only starting survivor from Soweto although Cory Jane could get a run.

That will leave a vastly rearranged side to take on the Springboks who are throwing more verbal volleys and sweating bullets about finding one Tri-Nations victory this season. Coach Peter de Villiers has changed a third of his side and given Victor Matfield the leadership as he rests usual skipper John Smit.

The game plan is also likely to alter with goalkicking whizz Morne Steyn replacing Butch James at five-eighths where his kicking game will test the All Black back three.

It was a selection and tactic All Black coach Graham Henry predicted before his squad left for this test and their final Tri-Nations meeting against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Henry left half his test certainties at home, using the rationale that he needed to see how others performed in the torrid test arena before he, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith made some final decisions about their World Cup squad.

That tournament group will be named next Tuesday once the All Blacks have arrived in Brisbane.

Players under the most intense blowtorch heat are those like Dagg, Isaia Toeava and Richard Kahui who have been bedevilled by injury and others like Liam Messam, who is in a tight loose forward scrap, while Jarrad Hoeata's continued selection depends on his form and Anthony Boric's recovery.

Five-eighths Colin Slade gets a chance to start a test while there are likely to be moves to see how the versatile Piri Weepu covers those duties.

A significant curiosity will be which three players in the touring group miss selection in the All Black side and reserves, and whether that trio appear to be World Cup certainties or discards.

LIKELY SIDE

Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Ali Williams, Jarrad Hoeata, Jerome Kaino, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock. Others: Zac Guildford, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis, Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore.

- NZ Herald

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