Israel Dagg signs with Crusaders

Marc Hinton
August 14, 2010

The rich just got richer. The sublime even better. Confirming their reputation as a franchise that leaves nothing to chance, the Crusaders today completed the signing of New Zealand's most exciting young rugby player.

All Black, Hawke's Bay and, now, former Highlanders fullback Israel Dagg is officially a Crusader for the next two Super 15 rugby seasons - though anyone who thought this wasn't a done deal an age ago is operating in cuckoo-land.

The rumours have been floating around since the end of this year's competition that Dagg was ripe for the move and that the Crusaders were his preferred destination.

The gifted fullback, who's made the breakthrough into the All Blacks squad this international season, gave two pretty fair seasons' of effort for the struggling Highlanders, but was clearly itching to go somewhere, well, better.

Like most young sportsmen he desperately wants to win and if two seasons with the low-lying Highlanders taught him anything, it was that he wasn't going to do so by remaining in Dunedin.

Dagg himself did little to hide his desire to join his close friend and provincial team-mate Zac Guildford at the most successful franchise of all time. Contractual issues meant he could never come out and confirm the move, but to anyone who asked, he made it more than clear that he was heading to red-and-black country.

Now it just remains to be seen if the Crusaders can complete a gut-wrenching swoop on their southern neighbours and add loose forward Adam Thomson to that list. Don't bet against it either.

Thomson, who hails from Christchurch, has been a superb servant for both Otago and the Highlanders and did manage to play his way into the All Blacks while toiling away for both.

But he's now lost his place in the national pecking order and desperately needs a big Super 15 in 2011 if he's to have any chance of playing his way back into the World Cup squad.

Now, let's see? Playing alongside All Black starters Richie McCaw and Kieran Read in a Crusaders side sure to be a contender once again… or running out with Alando Soakai and goodness knows who in another Highlanders side unlikely to figure?

Not too hard a call, even if the securing of Jamie Joseph as coach does at least give long-suffering Highlanders fans a glimmer of hope.

Joseph, apparently, will get the chance to try and talk Thomson out of his move, but it's unlikely the one-time hard man of Otago rugby will have the oratory skills to achieve that significant task.

But back to Dagg's signing. It's a huge coup by the seven-time champions who have been ousted in the semifinals for the last two years.

They now have a backline that looks something like this: Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams, Robbie Fruean, Zac Guildford, Sean Maitland and Dagg.

Given that their forwards are hardly a pack of slouches, that prospect alone should have their odds tightening at the betting shops.

Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder was typically understated in his official statement, though you know inside he's dancing a jig.

"We are very happy to have secured Israel for next season's inaugural Super rugby competition and beyond," said the Crusaders coach. "He is a special talent and we're sure he will fit in at the Crusaders very well."

Blackadder's right on both counts. Dagg, as evidenced by that try against the Springboks in Wellington, is a special talent.

And he will fit in at New Zealand rugby's best franchise very, very well indeed.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw on Friday night welcomed Dagg as a new team-mate at the Crusaders.

"I didn't have anything to do with it," grinned the influential leader of the Red and Blacks. "He had to make that decision. But from a Crusaders point of view we're lucky to have a guy with that sort of ability.

"He's a talent that's going to get better and better so we're lucky have a guy like that wanting to come to the Crusaders."

Mils Muliaina spoke for all prospective opponents when he shuddered at the thought of Dagg being added to the players already at the southern franchise.

"Shucks, getting Sonny Bill [Williams], DC (Dan Carter) there, and now picking up Izzy, they're going to be a heck of a force next year. Every year you look at their forward pack and what they can do, and now with the brilliant guys they can pick [in their backline], they're going to be a force to be reckoned with."