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Dagg becomes reluctant All Blacks leader

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/11/2016 Angelo Risso

June 18, 2016: NZ's Israel Dagg makes a run against Ross Moriarty of Wales during the International Test match © Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images June 18, 2016: NZ's Israel Dagg makes a run against Ross Moriarty of Wales during the International Test match Coach Steve Hansen hopes it will bring the best out in the game-breaker. © Rob Griffith/Associated Press Coach Steve Hansen hopes it will bring the best out in the game-breaker.

All Blacks stalwart Israel Dagg may have successfully recreated himself as a Test winger in 2016 but it hasn't stopped him offering advice to fullbacks where he sees fit.

Dagg, 28, lines up at fullback for Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders and was a long-term Test option in the No.15 jumper until a shock omission from last year's World Cup-winning squad.

Returning to the fold in 2016, the Hawke's Bay representative has typically found himself on the right edge, with the ever-reliable Ben Smith holding the fort at fullback.

Yet Dagg will find himself alongside another No.15 in this weekend's Test against Italy in Rome, with Chiefs young gun Damian McKenzie set to make his first start in the black jumper.

As soon as Dagg found out McKenzie would start, he pulled the 21-year-old aside and offered a few choice words on handling the occasion.

"I said, you just play, you're an excitement machine, you love playing footy, running the ball, so you just get out there and play, and always talk so we're always connecting," Dagg said.

The 58-cap Dagg will serve as one of the elder statesmen in Saturday's Test at Stadio Olimpico, as coach Steve Hansen uses the match to blood several fringe squad members.

Dagg said he wasn't a natural talker on the field, having spent much of his career alongside All Blacks legends Richie McCaw, Ma'a Nonu and Kieran Read, but would do what was necessary.

"I just want to lead with how I play and if I'm playing well and nailing my role, the younger guys can see that and build off that," Dagg said.

"They might be feeling a bit of pressure and hopefully I can help keep them calm but for me, I just want to play and hopefully that can boost the boys."

A long-term shoulder injury sustained in last year's provincial championship gave Dagg the southern summer away from rugby and a chance to collect his thoughts after the World Cup snub.

He credited the injury with helping him revive his love for rugby in 2016 and beyond.

"If I'm going to be honest, in previous years I probably wasn't excited because I was more worried and nervous about making mistakes and doing things wrong," Dagg said.

"Whereas this time I'm just excited, I'm pumped and can't wait to get out there and play."

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