It's been a journey, full of ups and downs and a notoriously big night out, but Israel finally reached his promised land last night.

He's a dash and dare player is Israel Dagg - part Christian Cullen in the way he leaves defenders grasping at nothing - part John Gallagher in the way he purrs so effortlessly into the line.

Hopefully in time he'll become part Mils Muliaina too - tidy and assured and hold rugby's equivalent of AAA credit rating.

But that will come. For now it's better just to embrace a frighteningly good talent - the man who with his first intrusion made it clear it was going to be a special night. He hit the ball at pace, his white boots all a flicker as he danced his trademark goose-step stutter, fended Rocky Elsom, got pretty much round Adam Ashley-Cooper and flung the ball back inside for Ma'a Nonu to score.


In one breathtaking movement he set the mood. He eased a nation's nerves - everyone apparently knew the key to the semi-final was scoring early, build up the scoreboard and leave the Wallabies chasing the game. Dagg's blast was the touch of genius this game was always going to need to separate the sides.

There's little doubt that Dagg's super confident opening inspired Cory Jane - pushed his team-mate into playing the best game of his life.

"I thought our back three were outstanding," said All Black coach Graham Henry. "Our backfield play [in this tournament] has been outstanding. The back three didn't drop a ball all night and some of their other work was frankly pretty special."

Muliaina's World Cup and All Black career ended last week with his cracked shoulder. What Dagg did last night was confirm that it was his time anyway - that he was the new guard; the rightful custodian of the All Black fullback shirt.

Goodness knows Muliaina was a special force, a player to be treasured; a player whose instincts grew and refined to the point where he was seriously in control.

He was a sponge that mopped up all the spills at the back; made his tackles, plucked high balls effortlessly and had an underrated counter attacking thrust.

Dagg can't match Muliaina's tidiness - he made a few errors last night. But what he can do is set games alight. He brought a touch of magic to Eden Park - some raking kicks out of defence; bravery under the high ball and always, always looking for the chance to run. Sometimes a player just feels like the right choice and that is Dagg.

World Cups are often about momentum - about creating tiny advantages that lift everyone. Reliability and anticipation are qualities - line-breaking and making impossible passes are match-winning qualities.

The question now for Dagg is whether he wants to believe in his own potential. His future is huge if he lets it have the space and discipline it needs.

Injury saved the All Blacks having to decide between Dagg and Muliaina. But really, the choice was always going to be Dagg. It's his time.