Backs coach Ian Foster has emphasised the All Blacks will not back away from their game-plan but stopped short of guaranteeing that Israel Dagg will be a part of it.
Unlike halfback Aaron Smith and second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu, who hushed their critics with clinical performances against France last weekend, Dagg has been unable to dodge the shrapnel following the 23-13 win at Eden Park.
Although he was among the All Blacks’ top achievers in metres gained (44m) and ball carries (9), Dagg’s return to the black jersey failed to draw the best out of him. Adding to his discomfort was the explosive performance of Rene Ranger.
Ranger, who forced a back-three re-shuffle when he replaced Dagg with 14 minutes left and knocked Yoann Huget senseless with a trademark charge upfield, has tipped petrol on the debate about whether Ben Smith should be shifted from the right wing to replace Dagg at fullback.
That would allow the aggressive Ranger to immediately unleash his attacking fire on the flank.
Foster, when asked if Dagg had done enough to retain his position for the second test at AMI Stadium, was cautious in his appraisal.
“We were pleased that Israel played reasonably well – and I put the word reasonably there – I think he has got more to go,” Foster said.
“And there is some pretty good competition among the squad, particularly in the back three. It was an area that people felt that we were a bit light maybe in depth, we have lost a lot of players. Isn’t it nice we are now talking about competition for spots.”
Just where that leaves Dagg, who started in 13 of the All Blacks’ 14 tests last year, is anyone’s guess outside the confines of the All Blacks camp – until the team is revealed on Thursday.
Dagg’s mixed form has been a lively subject among Crusaders’ supporters this year and frustrated coach Todd Blackadder last month benched him for two rounds before returning him to the starting side.
– Fairfax NZ News