Rocket-man tips Dagg to make big statement

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NZPA     11 Jun 2010     getty images

One of the more exciting All Blacks debut selections of recent years, 22-year-old Dagg will join 60-test veteran Rokocoko and Cory Jane in a new-look back three to face Ireland here on Saturday.

The skipper of the back-three, Rokocoko was reminded of how he felt as a 20-year-old before his 2003 debut against England as he embarked on a try-scoring feast that year.

"He's an exciting player, it reminds me of what I was like as a young kid, just excited to get out there," Rokocoko said.

"I'm rooming with him. On the first night the light went out and he just said 'mate I can't wait, eh'. He couldn't sleep. I just said 'don't over-hype yourself too early'.

During trainings he's talking to me and checking he's doing his job well.

"The main thing we want him to do is come out of his shell and express himself."

If today's All Blacks session at Yarrow Stadium was any guide, Dagg could make an instant impact. The gifted attacker was everywhere and looked a neat fit in the All Blacks set-up.

The back-three have a high standard to maintain after the standout performances of Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu (both now injured) and Jane in the season-ending 39-12 win over France.

Rokocoko, with 45 tries to his name, is taking responsibility for how he, Dagg and Jane combine as the All Blacks seek a flying start to 2010.

"My focus is my unit, the back three and the combination is the key thing. This game has a bit more focus on it, mainly because we've had slow starts in previous years with the French and the years before that, it's been close. Our whole focus is making sure this will be a high mark for the year."

Rokocoko said the Ireland test was a special one after he fought back from being dropped for the Europe tour.

He declined coach Graham Henry's request to link with the New Zealand sevens team late last year.

Instead he flew to London to play in the Barbarians' win over the All Blacks in December and set about winning back his test jersey.

"I just wanted to get away with my family and Baabaas was the perfect situation. I asked Graham straight up what things I needed to work on to get me back in.

"One was the aerial skills and the second thing was working well with the back three, getting combinations going. That was the big focus with the Blues."

Rokocoko never doubted he would return, and said positive thinking and playing to his strengths were the other keys in Super 14. He got the payoff when he stood in a packed lounge room in Auckland with his proud family and heard his name read out on TV last month.

"It was an awesome feeling, like being a new All Blacks again. I've experienced it twice now, getting in and getting out again so it's always a special feeling."