Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg gets his chance to show he's ready

Fullback Ben Smith moved to wing in place of dropped Julian Savea.
All Blackk Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blackk Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Julian Savea has been left out of the All Blacks for the second test against Wales at Westpac Stadium, with coach Steve Hansen recalling fullback Israel Dagg to the starting line-up and moving Ben Smith to the left wing.

Right wing Waisake Naholo, who had a rollercoaster of a test at Eden Park last Saturday, will again start in the No14 jersey as the All Blacks look to tie up a series which is rapidly going sour for Wales after their humiliation by a second-string Chiefs in Hamilton on Tuesday.

"Our performance in the first test was very pleasing in a number of ways, especially how we kept our composure under pressure," Hansen said. "However, there is an expectation that we will need to improve right across the board, with better accuracy, in both our attack and defence, combined with more physicality and intensity.

"We are expecting Wales to come out all guns blazing, particularly after what happened in the Chiefs game, so we will have to not only meet that response, but go to a higher level ourselves."

It is a deserved recall for Dagg, outstanding for the Crusaders after a late start to the season due to a shoulder injury. Left out of the World Cup squad, he credits his renaissance to a new-found love of the game, and his skill under the high ball is likely to be a big part of Hansen's reasoning behind his selection.

Significantly, it will be the 28-year-old's 50th test cap. His last test was in July last year - the victory over the Springboks in Johannesburg. It will also be Ben Smith's 50th test.

Attention, however, will probably focus on where this leaves Savea, who has had issues with his form and weight for the Hurricanes this year, and was replaced by Beauden Barrett after only 43 minutes at Eden Park last weekend after missing several first-half tackles. Hansen left Savea out of the Samoa test and first two games of the Rugby Championship last year following the Hurricanes' run to the Super Rugby final because of a lack of fitness, a constant work-on for a player who tips the scales at 110kg.

The powerful 25-year-old, who has scored 39 tries from 42 tests, including a five-pointer last weekend, has generally responded well from being left out and Hansen will back him to do so again.

He burst on to the scene in 2012 by scoring a hat-trick of tries against Ireland at Eden Park, had a quiet game in the next test in Christchurch where the All Blacks scraped home 22-19, and was left out of the third test in Hamilton where the All Blacks ran up 60 points.

Despite his incredible strike-rate of tries per tests - including three in the quarter-final thrashing of France at last year's World Cup in Cardiff, Savea, one of the most damaging wings in world rugby, has always needed careful managing.

It will be a balancing act, however, because if the back three play well at the Cake Tin, it would be difficult to separate them for the third test in Dunedin. Like Eden Park, the remaining two tests of the series have been sold out.

The only other change to the team is the return from a hamstring strain of Sam Whitelock, who replaces Luke Romano as a starting lock alongside Brodie Retallick.

The reserves bench has been kept as is, which means Romano drops out of the match-day squad completely. There were hints by the coaching staff that back-up halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow might have been close to a return from a hand injury, but Hurricane TJ Perenara retains his spot.

Wales, who flew to Wellington straight after their 40-7 thrashing by the Chiefs, have delayed naming their team from 7am today until 11am.

- NZ Herald

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