Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Dagg at 15, Barrett to start

First-five’s kicking game must be spot on in wet condition.

Several flights into Napier were cancelled by the low-level cloud in the city yesterday, and Beauden Barrett is likely to be told to take a similarly risk-free approach in his first test start at first-five against Argentina on Saturday.

As he assumes the controls for the first time in a No10 jersey at the highest level, his kicking game must be spot on in what are expected to be very wet conditions.

Assistant coach Ian Foster suggested during the week that the All Blacks will look to pressure Argentina's kicking game. This, along with the rest of their back play, has improved over the past two years, but the All Blacks will still see vulnerability there. However, there will also be pressure on Barrett to navigate a safe path for his team.

One of the downfalls for the All Blacks in the Sydney stalemate was the inability to make quick and smart decisions in the pouring rain, particularly in the second half.

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Aaron Cruden, who more than made up for his difficult evening in Sydney with one of his best test performances in the return encounter at Eden Park, has been told to take a week off to rest a chest injury, but coach Steve Hansen said he could have played if required.

Instead, it gives Hansen and his fellow selectors the perfect chance to see how Barrett runs a game against a team the All Blacks should be far too good for. Cruden will be rested with an eye on the following weekend's test against the Springboks in Wellington, in theory a tougher proposition.

The recall of Israel Dagg at fullback, another significant change which sees Ben Smith moved to the right wing in place of Cory Jane, will aid the All Blacks in the territorial battle because few in Hansen's side can match Dagg's booming right boot, but there will also be a lot of responsibility on Barrett to strike the right balance.

The 23-year-old has waited a long time for this opportunity. He made his All Black debut two years ago and has started in only two of 21 tests, both at fullback. Now the third-best first-five in the country gets his chance and he will be delighted.

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With Dan Carter unavailable because of his broken leg, Colin Slade, named on the bench, has been handed the chance to play his first test since August last year.

Hansen made it clear he was happy with Jane's form on the right wing, but he and the selectors now hold outside back Smith in such high esteem they are unwilling to start a test without him. Jane is the casualty.

However, Hansen also showed his ruthless side in dropping prop Charlie Faumuina from his bench role in favour of Joe Moody because of a lack of form.

For Hawkes Bay player Dagg, still presumably on a high after his Ranfurly Shield exploits last weekend, this is a great opportunity on a ground he knows well. After two tests in the wilderness he has been welcomed back into the fold.

Hansen said: "The selectors felt this was the right time to give Israel an opportunity. We also want to make it clear that his selection is not a reflection on Cory Jane's play, as we have been very happy with his performances."

In the other change, lock Jeremy Thrush comes in for Steven Luatua in what is a tactical move.

Hansen said: "We wanted a specialist lock for this encounter so Jeremy is the obvious choice with Dominic Bird and Patrick Tuipulotu still not ready to play."

Full team

(number of tests in brackets)

Starting XV:
1. Wyatt Crockett (29)
2. Dane Coles (20)
3. Owen Franks (59)
4. Brodie Retallick (29)
5. Samuel Whitelock (56)
6. Liam Messam (33)
7. Richie McCaw (c) (129)
8. Kieran Read (64)
9. Aaron Smith (31)
10. Beauden Barrett (21)
11. Julian Savea (24)
12. Ma'a Nonu (92)
13. Conrad Smith (78)
14. Ben Smith (31)
15. Israel Dagg (39)

Reserves:
16. Keven Mealamu (115)
17. Ben Franks (33)
18. Joe Moody (1)
19. Jeremy Thrush (5)
20. Sam Cane (16)
21. TJ Perenara (5)
22. Colin Slade (11)
23. Malakai Fekitoa (4)

- APNZ

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