Hurricanes out to build on 2012 - Victor Vito
The bar has been raised at the Hurricanes this year and Victor Vito is leading the charge to soar over it.
The 25-year-old All Black loose forward is now a senior figure in the Canes setup, with 20 tests, and a World Cup, under his belt and about to start his fifth season of Super Rugby.
And as much as Vito loved being part of the Hurricanes' resurgence last year, he says it all counts for nothing if the Wellington-based franchise don't learn the lessons from a season that ultimately came up short of the mark.
A Hurricanes side written off by after an exodus of high-end talent won 10 of their 16 matches last season to finish in eighth spot, a tantalising two points off a playoff spot.
Most considered that a wildly successful season, though Vito reckons it's only a starting point for 2012.
"The mindset of the boys going into this year is making sure that we don't tear the house down and start at square one again," he said. "We've got to build on a lot of the progress we made.
"We've got quite a few of the guys signed on again, and one of the big goals of the Hurricanes is to be one of those franchises that people want to come and play for.
"With the year we had and a lot of the guys back, it gives us that ability to move on and build on last year."
The message from coach Mark Hammett heading in to the season kickoff on Saturday night at the Cake Tin against the Blues has been a pretty consistent one.
"A lot of it is based on building on those pillars of last season - hard work, commitment, and all pulling in the same direction," Vito said.
"If we have that buy-in whatever decisions we do make, whatever game-plan we do have, we just back it to the hilt, then by and large it should come off.
"It's when you start doubting things, or start trying to run your own ship, that it can come unstuck. If anything it's building on that culture we created last year."
Vito was thrilled that the Hurricanes managed to put some smiles back on their fans' faces last season with a return to their trademark adventurous style.
But he urges a little commonsense to go with the derring-do.
"The Hurricanes have always been known as that team that lets the ball fly a bit. But something we learned last year is championships are won on defence.
"When you reflect on that Cheetahs game (lost 38-47 at home in round six), we had great attacking flair to open up the game, then let in quite a few tries and ended up losing. That consistency is something we've got to build on and take into this year."
Vito is also out to take his own game to new levels in 2013 as he looks to force his way up the national loose forwards pecking order.
"Every year with the All Blacks and in Super Rugby it goes up another notch, and you can't be left behind. The big thing for the Hurricanes and me especially is to make sure you keep taking those strides forward."
To that end Vito expects to play at both No 6 and 8 this season, depending on Hammett's requirements each week, and he understands that having that versatility does him no harm at the highest level.
As for the absence of Cory Jane for the season after his knee surgery, Vito prefers to concentrate on the opportunity now in front of a youngster like Matt Proctor to make his mark at this level.
"Though he's young we've just got to do things in the leadership group to pump up those guys and give them the confidence to play the game they want to play.
"He's got the skills, he's got the speed, and if anything it's about just backing himself. It's just rugby. We don't want to over-complicate his workload and just let him play his natural game."
Vito, for now, is trying not to focus on the sevens opportunities that will come on the radar in the leadup to the 2016 Olympics. He's one of a handful of New Zealand players who have the potential to do a World Cup-Olympic Games double.
"If the opportunity comes up and the powers that be and all the stars align and I'm fit, I would love to put my hand up again.
"To have a shot at a gold medal and be amongst guys like Usain Bolt, would be pretty awesome. It's definitely a goal, but one I'll look at later on."