'Uncluttered' Victor Vito thrives back with ABs

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Victor Vito
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VICTOR VITO: "In this environment you come under a lot of scrutiny, on and off the field, and in the past I probably haven't handled it as well and have probably taken that baggage into games."

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Victor Vito has had a rethink on this whole All Black thing, and the results have been dramatic to say the least. Less is more, pretty much sums it up, and the attitude switch has taken him from the outhouse back to the penthouse.

When Vito spent most of 2013 in the international rugby wilderness, the 27-year-old loose forward had plenty of time to ponder what he was going to do about it. His conclusions have revived his ailing career.

After a second straight test off the bench last night for the All Blacks (for his 24th cap), the Wellington-born loose forward, an honorary chief in his mother's village in Samoa, is back in coach Steve Hansen's good books.

He was dropped from the All Blacks last year following the June tests against France and challenged to increase his physicality and become a more effective player.

He considers his time out a mixture of putting in the hard work and taking care of some key detail.

"It was always about the mentality with me, making sure my mind was right," he says. "In this environment you come under a lot of scrutiny, on and off the field, and in the past I probably haven't handled it as well and have probably taken that baggage into games.

"Less is more sometimes with me. I've been in and out of this squad a few times and that showed me it wasn't anything to do with abilities or athletic capabilities.

"Maybe I had to get a little bigger, but if anything it was about getting the mind right and being able to handle the pressures that come with All Black rugby."

Let's not forget this is a smart man. He has a degree in classical studies, and has been working away on a law one to go with it. He's intelligent, articulate, well read and very thoughtful.

"I like to read and delve into situations and find out the whys," he says.

"But sometimes footy is a simple game and once you're on the field you just need to decide and do, and not be cluttered in your mind. I think that's what's held me back.

"Being dropped was hard because it's so public. It was a pretty smooth ride up till then. They want to see a bit of that mental resilience, being able to cope with these things.

"You either break from it or go forward. I'd like to think I've gone forward."

The message to "declutter" as well as beef up a little came initially like a slap in the face.

"As a rugby player you've got a bit of an ego already, and then you're being told these things and you think ‘geez, do I have what it takes?' Luckily, I took the positive approach."

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Vito had options offshore, but decided for fight not flight. He embraced a leadership role with the Lions, then the Hurricanes and, frankly, he relaxed a bit after multiple All Black axings.

"I thought my time had gone, and to get another chance is awesome. This year I haven't really worried about the All Blacks, and just focused on my form with the Hurricanes.

"It felt like I was young again and [the All Blacks] didn't feel real to me any more. I thought ‘you've had your chances, now you've blown it'."

Vito doesn't drink, but he says a shock inclusion back in the national squad for this series felt like something he should toast.

"It hit me in a humble way in my room when I sat down for the first time when we came together."

Then the hard work began: he was now covering all three loose forward spots off the bench, and he had some detail to cover off.

Soon enough he was out there again, an integral figure in Aaron Cruden's audacious late tapped penalty that decided the match last weekend. Uncluttered, unobstructed, he loved it all. And now?

"The World Cup is in the back of the mind, as it's only next year. But as I know a lot can happen in a year."

AT A GLANCE

VICTOR VITO

Age: 27
Physical: 1.92m/112kg
Teams: Wellington and Hurricanes
Position: Loose forward
Tests: 24
Debut: vs Ireland (2010)
Highlight: World Cup winner (2011)

- Sunday Star Times

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