Victor Vito's selection at blindside flanker has been made with one eye on the All Blacks, says Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.
After playing mostly at No 8 last season, Vito will wear the 6 jersey against the Blues in Saturday's Super Rugby season-opener at Westpac Stadium.
The position represents Vito's best chance of becoming an All Blacks regular, given Kieran Read is the world's best at the back of the scrum. Liam Messam is the All Blacks incumbent at blindside.
''Probably long-term, certainly the goal for Vic, not just within the Hurricanes, but also All Black aspirations, then potentially six is that best option,'' Hammett said.
''But Vic has said to me and I'm sure he'll say to you guys, he'll do whatever's best for the team... [It's] not necessarily for the season, we'll see how we track throughout the campaign and see how form is.''
Brad Shields has been picked at No 8 to play the Blues despite having just 30 minutes of pre-season rugby under his belt following knee surgery.
''From what we'd seen out of Brad, and how he's trained, he's been ready, he probably could have gone in the second pre-season game,'' Hammett said.
''He's brought a real physicality and a real accuracy to his game. And we feel that Vic can play in that six game. First game, Brad gets the first hit out and [the selection is] probably based around accuracy.''
Hammett said it was a tight call between Shields and Faifili Levave. ''Obviously we've got Fafa [Levave] who had a great season last season and we hope to get to get the same out of him.
"He's a guy who can add real impact off the bench with his [ball] carry or his defensive work.''
Hammett said Ardie Savea would have been in Saturday's squad if he hadn't been suspended for four weeks for a lifting tackle.
''He's a great character, a good kid, it's completely out of character really for him. So it's a good learning for him and it's a good learning for the team actually. They're going to be very strict on tip tackles, very strict on high tackles, so it's a pretty timely reminder for us all.''
- The Dominion Post
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