Dagg at home in Napier

Israel Dagg (Getty Images)
Israel Dagg (Getty Images)

Napier - Israel Dagg has enjoyed the last two weeks back home in Napier.

He has not only helped his provincial side Hawke's Bay win the Ranfurly Shield but he has also regained his fullback position for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship match with Argentina on Saturday.

Dagg will become the first Hawke's Bay player to appear in an All Blacks' Test at McLean Park, though born-and-bred players Josh Kronfeld and Norm Hewitt, both playing for other provinces, were in the team for the only other Test the home side has played in Napier, in 1996 against Samoa.

Current Hawke's Bay tighthead prop Jason Marshall played for Canada twice on the ground at the 2011 World Cup, and All Blacks prop Ben Franks has been contracted to the local team since last year and is in the replacements for Saturday's match.

The significance has not been lost on Dagg, who is normally ebullient and quick with a quip but was thoughtful and sombre during the All Blacks' media session on Thursday.

He appeared reflective of the impact his appearance on his home track would have for his family, club and a wider Hawke's Bay community basking in the Test build-up and the capture of the nation's pre-eminent provincial rugby challenge trophy.

"It's something that is very special," the 26-year-old told reporters. "It's something I have been dreaming about for a long time.

"The All Blacks are a tough team to crack so you just have to wait for that opportunity and the coaches have given me that opportunity this week."

Dagg returns after being forced to sit out with a knee injury after the first of the June tests against England and watch Ben Smith take over at fullback and perform well.

Smith has been shifted to wing for the match against the Pumas with veteran Cory Jane making way.

Playing in front of his family and friends, all of whom were asking for their replica jerseys to be signed by the All Blacks, had added meaning for Dagg.

His grandfather Pat Dagg is a life member of the Napier Pirates club, one of the oldest in Hawke's Bay, and Israel made a surprise visit to the Tamatea-based club on Tuesday.

Like many New Zealand rugby clubs, memorabilia - caps and jerseys - and photos of former teams are affixed to the breeze-block walls of the bar, a cavernous room remodelled by the volunteer club members after former tenants moved out last year.

Dagg's All Blacks jersey from a 2010 Test against Australia hangs proudly on the wall, though attention is deflected somewhat by a larger display of four jerseys donated by former New Zealand Maori prop Clint Newland.

The 26-year-old Dagg, however, provided club members with a surprise when he and his All Blacks team mates turned up on Tuesday. The bar manager proudly displayed a 'selfie' with Dagg, wearing a retro-Pirates jersey, on her smartphone.

The visit is part of the All Blacks' internal culture, outlined by local academic Tom Johnson in a recent book, where players tell their team mates about the history of their club and what it means to represent where they came from.

Founded in 1886, Pirates had early success, winning the provincial club title five times from 1889 until 1896 and were a powerhouse during the 1920s, contributing several players to a Hawke's Bay team considered the strongest in New Zealand.

Harry Frazer was their first, and until Dagg, the only All Blacks representative when he played for the national team after World War Two.

While Israel spent much of his early life in the northern Hawke's Bay town of Wairoa, the Dagg history with the club runs deep.

Pat Dagg was captain of the senior team, occupied several executive positions at the club and is one of 31 life members.

Fellow life member Pat Fox, who joined the club in 1950 as a teenager, credits Pat Dagg for helping to save the club in the early 1960s when playing numbers had dropped to the point they had just four members available for the senior team.

"There was talk about putting the senior team down the grades but Pat, who is a great orator and very eloquent man, got up and by the time he sat down there was no talk about defaulting," Fox told Reuters at his home in Napier.

"We then teamed up with a local high school and there was a real resurgence and a whole new feeling about the club, which meant so much because we were struggling."

Fox said the club has been built on generations of family members, his own grandsons playing for Pirates, passing through their doors in the western suburbs of Napier.

"That's what makes it so special about Israel," he added.

"A big tribe of Daggs played for Pirates - his sisters and brother have as well - and that's how your club survives.

"It's where it starts and finishes."

Teams:

New Zealand

15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett

Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malaki Fekitoa

Argentina

15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza

Substitutes: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Baez, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Imhoff

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