Victor Vito on wanted list, but his future unclear
Victor Vito is a wanted man, that much is clear.
What's less certain is where the man himself wants to play his rugby beyond this year's national provincial championship.
The Wellington loose forward sits alone among the All Blacks class of 2014 in having yet to extended his current contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union.
The situation means new Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd cannot lock the 27-year-old in for 2015 and it has given rise to all manner of rumours about his playing future.
Neither Vito or his manager Warren Alcock would discuss his situation, but it is believed French Top 14 club Stade Francais remain keen to lure one of the game's most natural athletes overseas sooner rather than later.
The NZRU would only confirm that negotiations were on-going, but it seems clear they do not want him to be the one that got away.
"As we are with several players, we are in contract discussions with Victor," the union's player services manager Chris Lendrum said this week.
"We are really keen to keep Victor here as we believe he still has a lot to offer New Zealand rugby, as we saw in his good form during this year's June test series. But we also understand that players need to weigh up all their options carefully."
In layman's terms, Vito faces a tough choice as he watches the Rugby Championship from the sidelines because of a bulging disc in his neck.
He can stick around and try to fight through a queue of blindsides including test incumbents Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua.
Or he can leave while his market value is sky high and cash in before a swarm of international players swamp the post World Cup player market.
Vito reiterated in April his desire to add to his 24 tests for the All Blacks and fought his way back into the All Blacks for this year's June tests against England on the back of strong Super Rugby form for the Hurricanes.
Whether he would have been preferred ahead of Luatua for the Rugby Championship remains unclear, but his injury is not helping his cause in pushing for a place on the end of year tour.
Vito did confirm this week that he is hopeful his injury, one with no clear time frame on its recovery, will settle down enough to allow him to contribute to Wellington's provincial campaign.
He is exactly the sort of player New Zealand Rugby can ill-afford to lose, still young, a natural leader, and athletically gifted.
Furthermore, his departure would be a major blow to the Hurricanes, in particular after the recent loss of Samoan test loose forwards Faifili Levave and Jack Lam.
Wellington, the Hurricanes, and the All Blacks will all be hoping Vito decides to re-sign with the NZRU.
Messam went through a similarly difficult period earlier in his career when the door to the test side proved persistently difficult to open.
Eventually he bashed his way through the door and hasn't looked back.
Vito is arguably capable of doing the same.
The Dominion Post