All Blacks continue to manage change

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Lynn McConnell     05 Sep 2017     Getty Images

On top of the retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu after the 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph, the All Blacks are coming under increased pressure to not only maintain their legacy of success, but also to introduce new players, while ensuring their key performers can play at maximum efficiency.
That has seen Ben Smith given a sabbatical for the remainder of the year, tighthead prop Owen Franks undertake surgery for his Achilles tendon injury while Israel Dagg has had to have a knee problem managed already during the season.

With the All Blacks facing Argentina on Saturday in New Plymouth, 65-Test Dagg is expected to provide the experience in the back three by replacing Smith on the right wing to work with fullback Damian McKenzie and left wing Rieko Ioane.

"If I get an opportunity I will be fully pumped, excited and just looking forward to putting that jersey on again," Dagg said.

His knee injury had been a concern all season but was feeling fine. It involved bone bruising and meniscus cartilage damage. It was hard to treat and just required good management which he was doing on a daily basis.

"It's just old-man syndrome and you've just got to look after the body. If I don't I won't be able to train the next day," he said.

Dagg said he was comfortable with his status as 'the senior player' in the back three and it was a progression from the leadership role he had taken up with the Crusaders where there was a young backline.

"I had a good year doing that, I had a lot to learn obviously and I think for me it's not about all the talking, it's actions. I've just got to lead by my actions and if the young players can see that then hopefully they can see my certain way of leading," he said.

Crusaders skipper and team-mate lock Sam Whitelock said not everyone liked leading and talking but Dagg got out and worked hard and led by his actions and when he did that people gravitated to him.

With Franks out for the remainder of the season as a result of surgery he will have on his Achilles tendon on Friday, there was extra responsibility on loosehead prop Joe Moody to take on more leadership.

"It's all there for Moods and Moods has played a bit of rugby now so he should be able to step up. He's done that so far this year, he's improved his game and he's probably a guy that has consistently played well," Whitelock said.

Whitelock said one of the areas the side will be looking to improve against Argentina is their starting in games and not getting behind on the scoreboard. That came down to individual preparation leading into the Test and he was sure, after the team's review on Monday, that the players named would be on top of it this week.

Having a good individual plan would help ensure that would flow through the team performance.

In the season to date, against the British & Irish Lions and the two Bledisloe Cup Tests with Australia there had been a patchiness about the All Blacks' play and the team needed to be more consistent in games and across the Rugby Championship overall.

"That's the challenge, to be able to do it consistently," he said.