New faces shine for All Blacks
June 13, 2010
New Zealand's Israel Dagg stretches the Ireland defence during their clash in New Plymouth © Getty Images
Fullback Israel Dagg led the way as the All Blacks six debutants rose to the occasion of their first cap against Ireland in New Plymouth.
New Zealand awarded a first Test start to Dagg, centre Benson Stanley, loosehead prop Ben Franks and benchmen Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito and Aaron Cruden. And all repaid the faith shown in them by coach Graham Henry with telling contributions as the All Blacks swept aside the tourists 66-28 in a one-sided clash over-shadowed by a first half red card for Ireland's Jamie Heaslip who was given his marching orders for allegedly kneeing New Zealand captain Richie McCaw.
Usually a confident, bubbly character, Dagg was quiet, withdrawn and seemingly a bundle of nerves before his Test debut. "They got into me and said 'stop going into your shell, man'," Dagg said. But they needn't have stressed. A half break and in-pass to set Jane away early on showed the 22-year-old from Hawke's Bay wasn't going to bottle it.
Then, with gaps opening up when Ireland were reduced to 13 men for 10 minutes due to Jamie Heaslip's and Ronan O'Gara's ill discipline, Dagg cut loose as a central figure in All Blacks attacks as they went on to win 66-28. He latched on to a Benson Stanley in-pass in the leadup to Kieran Read's try; busted the line before fellow debutant Ben Franks crossed, then stormed on to a Dan Carter pass before sending Jimmy Cowan away.
His sheer class and eye for a gap evoked memories of Christian Cullen and John Gallagher, and would have had 82-Test incumbent Mils Muliaina, after a club match to test his injured calf muscle, shifting nervously in his lounge chair.
"She was a pretty good experience, I enjoyed every moment of it. It was just how it was made out to be; pretty intense, it was a level above and I'm pretty tired," Dagg said. "I told myself I had to get my hands on the ball pretty early and it gave me confidence to play my own game and go out there and express myself. I enjoyed it but there were a few moments in the second half where I switched off, so I have to work on that."
Dagg said wingers Jane and Joe Rokocoko made his job easy, and their combination honed over an extended nine-day buildup was a key factor. He and fellow debutant, centre Stanley, also formed a nice link as the All Blacks stuck to their mantra of keeping the ball alive at all costs. Now comes the anxious wait for Dagg, who surely deserves another go against Wales in Dunedin next Saturday, but has to contend with Muliaina's likely return.
"He (Muliaina) was my roommate for the first week, he's a great guy. He said 'just go do your stuff, you've been around a while now so express yourself, don't go into your shell and go hard'. We'll have to wait and see. Mils is the best player in the world at fullback and I've got to wait my turn. If I get the opportunity I'll take it but I've just got to try and learn off the best."
No one was getting their hands on Stanley's first All Blacks jersey as he reflected on a memorable debut. The man who self-deprecatingly referred to himself as "last man standing" amid a host of midfield injuries showed he belonged in black with a polished debut in the No.12 jersey. "That jersey's not getting swapped. I'll get it framed up, something I can see and reflect on. It won't be tucked away in a cupboard or anything," Stanley said.
Stanley put in his trademark solid defence and showed some nice touches with the ball outside Dan Carter as the All Blacks backs carved up against the depleted tourists. After a huge morning of nerves, the 25-year-old Aucklander was quickly into his work.
"The training week was fine and it was just dealing with nerves. I was pretty nervous before the game and I probably didn't show it, but I was trying some deep breathing under the covers so (roommate) Dan wouldn't see me, trying to get things under control and play it cool.
"The first contact, even a touch of the ball and you're into the game. Once that happened I went 'hold on it's just another footy game', albeit a test match of a slightly higher intensity, a bit more physical."
He never anticipated such a try-fest, more a tight arm wrestle against an accomplished Irish side. Stanley was now crossing his fingers for a repeat dose against Wales in Dunedin next weekend, although a fit-again Richard Kahui may loom as an option. "To give you taste then take it away is pretty tough but that's what keeps you motivated."
Franks was everything he was tipped to be: aggressive and mobile with a solid scrummaging display and some devastating defence to show incumbent Tony Woodcock he faced a battle. "My goal was just to get stuck in. I didn't want to get too in awe of playing my first test and go out there and do nothing. I said to myself 'just go out there and give it everything'," Franks said. "I kept my jersey. A lot of hard work goes into getting that jersey so that's one I'll definitely put it up on the wall."
Whitelock could hardly believe his luck when he was injected in the 50th minute and scored with his first touch, from a Piri Weepu pass, a minute later. He added a second with two minutes left and was still shaking his head afterwards.
"The first one was pretty lucky, I came on at the right time, and the second one I was pretty happy with," he said. "I got on and we had a scrum and from all that it just unfolded. I didn't have a lot of time to think about everything. I was just really excited to score and happy we're starting to play well as a team again."
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