All Blacks: Israel Dagg crucial to winning aerial game against Ireland

By Gregor Paul in Dublin

This could be a big week for Israel Dagg. A huge week perhaps in determining where his future lies.

Of all the areas that Ireland hurt the All Blacks in Chicago, the one that caused the most surprise and disappointment was their domination in the air. Ireland won the fight for contestable kicks. It was a knockout victory and all the more impressive given this has been an area in which the All Blacks pride themselves.

Getting off the ground to win back kicks has become a critical facet and the All Blacks won't be willing to come second in that area again. Which is why it's likely that Dagg will be recalled to the right wing.

It's not by any means certain but tactically the coaching staff are likely to feel a sense of comfort having the aerial prowess of Dagg and Ben Smith in their back three. That's a mix that leaves them better protected against Ireland's kicking game.

Dagg remains one of the best in the world game at attacking the high ball in the air both in attack and defence and he has a huge boot that can be utilised to clear the All Blacks out of trouble.

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His defensive portfolio is his main selling point, but his selection doesn't necessarily leave the All Blacks short of strike power as Dagg showed in Rome that there is plenty of running left in his legs.

In fact, Dagg's performance in Rome - his form all season - has opened the door on multiple possibilities. Now that he's established he can play on the wing, he's become an attractive horses for courses type option.

The double impact running power of Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo is a wing combination that is best used against sides such as Australia and Argentina that predominantly look to attack through their running game. But for the likes of Ireland, Wales and England - teams with sophisticated kicking games - pairing Dagg with one of Savea or Naholo is potentially a better selection.

That theory could be tested in Dublin if Dagg is given the nod and if he is, he knows exactly how he wants to play, because it is the basic philosophy he has used all year.

"I have just got to go out there and play," he says in reference to the period last year when he went out and strangled his creativity by thinking too much.

"If I get the ball, just run hard. If I am chasing kicks, get up and put some pressure on. To be honest, I didn't know how this year was going to go and the best thing that happened to me was probably when I took about five months away from the game when I was injured.

"When I came back in April I was super excited and every week I have been super excited. If I am going to be honest, in previous years I haven't been that excited because I was more nervous and worried about making mistakes and doing things wrong.

"Everything has fallen into place. I am playing wing and enjoying it."

If he's picked and he plays well, the next possibility for Dagg to ponder will be whether he wants to stay in New Zealand beyond 2017.

While he's made himself a key part of the squad this year, Nehe Milner-Skudder will return from injury next season and even though he's only 19, Rieko Ioane is going to be hard for the All Blacks to leave out.

What if Dagg commits through to 2019 only to find himself out of favour in 2018? He has to be asking himself about his longevity and whether, at 28, he's got the drive, energy and physical ability to still be holding a place when the competition will be even more fierce.

He has to be asking that because Toulon are believed to be keen on him and as everyone knows, they seem to genuinely believe money grows on trees.

- NZ Herald

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