Dagg returns to where it all began

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James Mortimer     06 Oct 2012     Getty Images

Dagg, along with captain Richie McCaw, scored one of the two late tries that gave the All Blacks a 29-22 victory, and as the fullback started celebrated before the try line was even crossed, Springboks captain John Smit resigned himself to a defeat in his 100th test match.

Such were his celebrations, not soon after taking a great Ma’a Nonu pass to score, that a host of senior All Blacks told him of, warning him to make sure he grounds the ball first.

“It was a bit close,” Dagg said.

“I was celebrating and yahooing, I didn't even know I was doing it.”

That match saw Dagg play alongside long serving fullback Mils Muliaina (with Dagg replacing Joe Rokocoko on the wing), and that performance could have been the catalyst for what former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry said was arguably his toughest selection decision.

Henry, a long-time friend of Muliaina from the days when the old headmaster spotted the young back and offered him a scholarship, effectively dropped the most capped All Blacks back in history to make way for Dagg in the starting XV.

While some felt Dagg was making the same sort of impression that other great All Blacks fullback have made in their career – with Christian Cullen an influence on the Hawke’s Bay star – he said it was a torrid introduction to international away fixtures.

“I was real tired and I only played 20 minutes,” Dagg said.

“It's pretty tough at altitude. The first 15 minutes your lungs are burning and you've got that bloody sensation in your throat.”

It has been a welcome return to the Black jersey for Dagg, who was unable to cut loose during the Investec Super Rugby season, but the 24-year-old believed it was due to the fact that he was not flying under the radar anymore.

“Now people have played me a few times and figured me out, so it's a lot tougher these days,” he said.

Now returning to Soweto to face a Springboks team who 2009 antics had led to a selection rethink for the All Blacks, leading to the debut of Dagg the following season, the fullback said he expected to learn about himself once again.

“They're a team that test you and put you under a lot of pressure,” he said.

"I know I'm going to get a lot of high balls. That's where you can find out a lot about yourself.”