Double honour in memorable week for Vito

Last updated 19:33 15/06/2010

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In New Zealand, he's Victor Vito, All Black.

In Samoa, it's Le'aupepetele Victor Vito, high chief. Almost as big as it gets, after Vito had the title officially bestowed by his grandfather in their village of Fasito'o-uta last week.

It all added up to the most memorable few days of 23-year-old Vito's life as he reflected on his elevation to the All Blacks' starting 15 to face Wales on Sunday (NZ time).

"It's been a big couple of weeks, especially today with the starting selection. It's been awesome and just an experience I want to hold on to and hopefully keep on going with," he said.

Vito was in camp last week, preparing for his test debut off the bench against Ireland, when his proud mother Luma'ava returned to their village in Samoa to accept the passing of the title.

It is one of Samoa's highest honours, and was bestowed by Leaupepe Tele to the eldest sons of his respective children: Vito and three of his cousins.

"My grandfather holds the highest title in Fasito'o Uta and he's getting on now and he needed to pass it on to keep the name in the family," Vito explained.

The ceremony lasted a day as the entire village came together for a procession, a church service then the chiefs run through the history of the name.

"It's not like a knighting but it's quite similar where they pass the name on," Vito said.

"It just means when I go home if there are some decisions to be made in the village, we have a bit of a say."

Asked the size of the village, Vito grinned: "It's one of the bigger ones... it's got an ATM and a petrol station and a Quick-E-Mart, so that's huge".

For Wellington born-and-raised Vito, it was a big honour but also a daunting one as he didn't yet have a full understanding of it. When Vito finds time to return amid his year-long rugby commitments, he'll receive the full ceremonial welcome.

There's also the question of the traditional tattoos, which take a painful fortnight to complete but are optional nowadays, Vito said.

"I wouldn't not consider it, but I think I'll take my time on it. I don't know if I'll have two weeks off at any stretch. Then the recovery takes another little while so we'll see how it goes."

First things first, and there's a test match to start after he was the only change to Graham Henry's starting side to face Wales.

His first 45 minutes of test rugby flew by as he replaced Jerome Kaino in New Plymouth, but he felt he made a solid start.

"I was quite lucky I came on with a few minutes to go in the first half and the overawing experience was taken off after that when I had a 10 minute break. When I came back on I knew what to expect.

"I definitely worked hard when I came on, and made quite a few tackles. Just a few little things like running lines and defensive lines this week to get that perfection the All Blacks search for."

Vito's work rate, lineout work and ball carrying ability all added up to an impressive package for the All Blacks selectors. They also see him a potential No 8 cover which he's relaxed about, and is trying to broaden his technical skills. For now, expect Vito to explode out of the blocks as he tries to nail his Tri-Nations spot.

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"That's the way you've got to play. You're not guaranteed your spot at any time.

"You might be chosen for three games but you might only get 20 minutes to show your worth. I'm definitely happy with the start and hopefully I can take it with both hands."

- NZPA

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