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INPHO/Photosport/Anthony Au-Yeung Israel Dagg has achieved so much in his four-year rugby career.
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Connacht’s George Naoupu on babysitting ‘cheeky’ Israel Dagg
The New Zealander says he knew the fullback would be an All Black from the first moment he saw him play.

GEORGE NAOUPU IS into his fourth season out west at Connacht but confesses he will be siding with his native New Zealand when they take on Ireland today.

The Omaru native has played with, and against, many of the All Blacks team that will take to the field at Lansdowne Road this afternoon. He tells he does not like to name-drop but having played for Canterbury, Hawkes Bay and Super Rugby’s Highlanders, the list is extensive.

Naoupu’s teammates at Canterbury included former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Aaron Mauger while Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are still kitting out in black and winning Tests. One current New Zealander international brings a smile to the back-row’s face when his name is mentioned.

“I played with Israel Dagg at Hawke’s Bay; he’s quite a cheeky fella,” said Naoupu. “He was a 19-year-old and fresh out of school. He was always making cracks about the older fellas being past it. I remember thinking ‘OK, you’re a bit cheeky for your age mate’.”

Though he is five years his senior, Naoupu got his Super Rugby break at the same time as the talented fullback. The Highlanders came calling and decided to room the pair together.

Naoupu recalled, “They put Israel and Jayden Hayward as my roommates and I was a father figure for them. They were always running around, joking and playing pranks on the other guys. They were quite a handful. I’d wake up at 6am some mornings and they’d both be in fits of laughter.

He put that energy and enthusiasm to got use and it is awesome to see how well he has done. He always had that X factor and you could tell, if he got the right coaching, that he’d go right to the top. From the first time I saw him play I thought ‘He’s going to be an All Black one day’.”

Dagg is in line for his 38th cap today and is a World Cup winner to boot. Naoupu said, “It just goes to show that you don’t have to be the biggest guy to make it in the game. Israel is slight, Israel Folau is 10 feet tall and Leigh Halfpenny is so small — there is no set formula for the perfect fullback but all of those guys are so talented. All can kick, catch and break lines.”

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imageNaoupu sees similarities in Dagg and his Connacht teammate Robbie Henshaw. INPHO/James Crombie

Naoupu’s Connacht teammate Robbie Henshaw, having been promoted to senior rugby straight out of school, has followed a similar career trajectory to that of Dagg. The 20-year-old missed out on a place on the bench for this afternoon’s match but the Kiwi believes his young teammate will not baulk against the world champions.

“No way,” he declared. “I’ll be doing the worrying for him as he’d have none. He’s one of those players that likes to have a crack at everything. He really has come through and put his name forward as one to watch.”

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