Dagg and Muliaina competing for one spot
September 7, 2011
Israel Dagg has been handed his chance to stake a claim for the All Blacks No.15 jersey © Getty Images
After naming Israel Dagg at fullback for Friday's World Cup opener against Tonga, New Zealand Graham Henry admitted that the All Blacks No.15 jersey will be very much up for grabs during the tournament.
Mils Muliaina, a veteran of 98 Tests, had been expected to start in Auckland, but Henry sprung a surprise at Wednesday's team announcement by plumping for Dagg, who made just one appearance during the recent Tri-Nations campaign.
It was then assumed that Muliaina, who did not even make the bench, was merely being rested for the tougher tests that lie in wait, but Henry then announced that "Mils and Israel are competing for that position (fullback)".
The other notable back-line selection sees Ma'a Nonu switch to No.13 to accommodate the inclusion of Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre, with Conrad Smith the man to make away. Henry explained that he had taken the size and strength of their Tongan rivals into account when it came to picking his centres.
"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," the former Wales boss 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."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jonny Wilkinson is the face of Toulon but whisper it, they might be a better team without him. Paul Eddison examines the case for dropping the talisman
"It does sometimes get tough as you get older, but there's nothing else I'd rather do." Tom Hamilton talks to fly-half Dan Carter
Stingers, a rampaging Fijian and two Dannys looking to be champions of the world - Monday Maul looks at some key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring