Rugby: Israel Dagg adding strings to his bow

By Gregor Paul in Christchurch

All Blacks wing Israel Dagg is tackled by Argentina flanker Javier Ortego Desio. Photo / Jason Oxenham
All Blacks wing Israel Dagg is tackled by Argentina flanker Javier Ortego Desio. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Just as the All Blacks have built what they call a triple threat game, so too has Israel Dagg.

He began the year as a specialist fullback, but has shown recently he can now play on the wing and, almost out of the blue, can also kick goals.

He's evolving and, while he has some way to go to, Dagg has taken steps to strengthen his footing within the squad.

As a specialist fullback only, he was in a head-to-head with vice-captain Ben Smith. Dagg won his place for the second test of the year after Julian Savea struggled in the first and the selectors shifted Smith to the right wing.

It wasn't ideal - the coaches' preference is to use Smith at fullback - but it was the only move available at the time.

The question for Dagg was what would happen when Savea returned to form and Waisake Naholo was fully fit? What then?

Smith would return to fullback and Dagg's lack of versatility would likely see him drop out of the 23 all together.

He's changed the equation in the last few weeks by showing he can handle the demands of wing and, if nothing else, he's made himself a handy bench option.

"I was talking to Bender [Ben Smith] today because I haven't played much at wing but it is pretty similar to fullback," Dagg said. "You work together [as a back three]. The difference is that you are in the defensive line more and you have to make a few more tackles. And I am enjoying that because it is giving me an opportunity to work on my defence."

Competition for back-three places will continue to be fierce and, in time, Dagg could have a trump card if he can develop his goalkicking.

It's a skill with which he has flirted without ever quite establishing his pedigree. In 2009, he took responsibility for goalkicking when he played for the Highlanders.

His range was possibly more impressive than his accuracy but he had the foundations in place to become a solid option. The following year, however, he joined the Crusaders and his services in that department were no longer required as Daniel Carter, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor and then Richie Mo'unga were the frontline options.

This year, though, Dagg has been agitating within the All Blacks to be given specialist tuition and considered a genuine option to kick for goal.

"He's encouraged me to consider him a goalkicker ... it's not a smart idea of mine," revealed assistant coach Ian Foster. "I used to send him down the other end where the amateur kickers went until I could see how serious he was about it. But he is serious and kicking the ball well.

"He has got a great attitude towards it. He wants to kick and I tested that for a few weeks just to make sure how serious he was but he keeps turning up. He has got good routines."

Dagg showed his routine, unexpectedly in Hamilton, when he kicked a long-range effort in the first half. He nailed it with room to spare.

It was the first chance he had to demonstrate his potential.

"I have been pestering away at goalkicking session and he [Foster] has been telling me to get down the other end," Dagg said. "But I keep trying to chip away and every time he is around I try to get the tee out and kick it right in front of him.

"I said to Beauden [Barrett] it is 40m-plus, give me a chance because if I miss it doesn't really matter. It is something good to add to your bow and it is something I will keep chipping away at."

- NZ Herald

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