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Israel Dagg hoping to repay faith of selectors

Published: 6:56AM Friday June 07, 2013 Source: Fairfax

Everyone, including Israel Dagg, knows he is out-of-form.

That is unquestionable.

If All Blacks coach Steve Hansen picked his best-performing fullback to start against the French at Eden Park tomorrow night, Ben Smith would be that man.

Smith, however, is on the right wing.

Having been selected on reputation, what Dagg does now matters most.

People feel a sense of ownership with the All Blacks. It is part of the brief but, at present, being public property isn't much fun for Dagg.

Usually an exuberant, cheeky character, the Crusaders fullback was cagey at yesterday's media session in Auckland. His personality has been suppressed by constant criticism of his attacking guile, defensive issues and lofty expectations not met this year.

"It's always a busy topic. It's been frustrating to say the least," he said of chatter about his ability. "I'm relaxed, but it's just the way things are in sport. If you're not doing well then the whole world knows. It's quite frustrating but I've got to stay clear in the mind. I've been given an opportunity this weekend so I've got to go out there and repay the selectors' faith."

Clearly, Dagg knows he is fortunate this week. He realises there is plenty to prove to the public - but also - a little closer to home.

"That consistency hasn't been there," he said. "I don't want to think about it too much. I've got to move on. I've got to put that behind me now and focus on these three tests. I've got to prove to myself I'm right to be here."

Of course Dagg is not alone. Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith and midfielder Ma'a Nonu have also been well short of their best.

Forms slumps can be a vicious cycle. Trying too hard only makes it worse. Most players perform at their peak when they are relaxed and adopt natural instincts. Frustration can be accompanied by loss of enjoyment.

Thankfully for Dagg, Smith and Nonu, in many respects the All Blacks are the easiest team to play for. The intensity, pace, tackle ferocity and skill level all lift a notch; but 14 other elite players are there to support you.

Tomorrow, all Dagg has to worry about is his niche at the back. That means going back to basics; being in position, taking the high ball, clearing with accuracy and distance, counter-attacking, coming into first-receiver to spark from second-phase and injecting himself into the backline from set plays.

Sounds complicated, but Dagg has performed those tasks with precision many times before.

"It makes your job a lot easier," Dagg said. "This is where every kid wants to be. When you get here you want to do well on the big stage. But we are professionals. We've got to do it every week.

That's something I've got to work on."

At his best Dagg is the world's No 1 fullback. Hansen will hope he can rediscover his mojo at the scene of that freakish inside ball in the World Cup semi-final walloping of the Wallabies. One gets the impression he is itching to break the shackles.

"I'm excited about the game-plan the All Blacks have," he said. "I can't wait to get my hands on the ball. Hopefully it opens up so I can create something which I haven't done in a while."