Menu allblacks.com

News

Top fullback still undecided

Getty Images

Sportal.co.nz     07 Sep 2011     Getty Images

Dagg was selected ahead of 98-Test veteran Mils Muliaina for the tournament opener in Auckland, with coach Graham Henry saying: "Mils and Israel are competing for that position and [Dagg] gets an opportunity."

Muliaina understood the position while Dagg, in his one outing in Tests this year, had played well.

Henry said the wing position had not been finally sorted given the number of players who could be selected in the role.

Both wings chosen, Isaia Toeava and Richard Kahui, played fullback and outside centre respectively for their Super Rugby franchises but both had played most of their Test rugby on the wings for the All Blacks.

Ma'a Nonu will start at outside centre ahead of Conrad Smith, while Sonny Bill Williams has been named at inside centre, a clear response to the physical approach expected from Tonga.

"Ma'a is pretty relaxed at centre so we've got a big midfield against a big midfield. But that wasn't the reason for the selection. The reason was to give Sonny Bill an opportunity and he's got that," Henry said.

"And we don't know what is going to happen later in the tournament, and who's going to be standing and who's not so we've got to give players opportunities to play and to force their abilities on the selectors and if we have injuries they will need to have had some games in recent times."

Henry said there were probably 10-11 players in the side who were number one in their position and there were competitive situations at scrum half, where Jimmy Cowan was named, and in the back three and in the centres.

Tonga would be a different team than that fielded in recent times because they had been augmented by some quality players from Europe, Henry said.

"I think we've got to expect a lot more from Tonga than what happened recently," he said.

New Zealand were pleased the tournament was finally getting underway, with the coach admitting the minds of players had been in two places during the Tri Nations.

That was reflected in the players being a little quieter, and more focused, with less banter, a recognition that the serious business was starting soon, he said.

The tournament would be a defining point for the side, given they have been the number one ranked side in the world for the last several years.

"But at the end of the day the big one is the Rugby World Cup, everyone knows that so it is going to define this team and the people associated with it," Henry said.