Who should wear the All Blacks No 6 jersey this Saturday?
When the All Blacks team to play Ireland this weekend is named tomorrow morning, one of the most interesting selections will be seeing who's wearing the No 6 jersey.
With Jerome Kaino out injured and off to Japan in a few months, the blindside flanker position for the series opener at Eden Park is up for grabs, coming down to a straight fight between Adam Thomson and Victor Vito.
Thomson has more experience playing at No6, but at the age of 30 is unlikely to make it to the next World Cup.
While Vito is more of a No8, it's worth remembering that coach Steve Hansen has an open mind on the back row. It was he who saw Kieran Read's potential at the back of a scrum and converted him from being a blindside flanker.
Following the team's training session in Auckland yesterday, one that hooker Keven Mealamu took part in to ease concerns over his calf injury, Vito said he's more than aware of the vacancy on one side of the All Blacks' scrum.
After watching on the sidelines as Kaino owned the No6 jersey in recent years, World Cup winner Vito says it's something he wants to emulate, in particular the huge defensive efforts that Kaino used to regularly put in.
"I see myself as going into that role, it's definitely something you've got to have when you're an All Black loose forward," Vito said.
"The physicality is a huge side of it. You had Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino as the three that really led the way last year and I'll be damned if I'm the one that's letting them down.
"So I've got to keep working on that and looking to hurt people really."
Vito wasn't giving out any clues as to whether it would be him or Thomson wearing the No6 jersey on Saturday night, but Vito did say he has been covering both No8 and blindside in training.
When asked the obvious question of where he prefers to play, he quipped: "The preference is to be on the field. But I'd say 6 or 8.
"I have been playing a lot with the Hurricanes at No8," he added.
"So in terms of transition I probably find it easier there. But there is a lot more of an onus on you there, both attacking and defending at No8.
"Blindside is more of a cover role, but it is quite different in itself too. You're more in that defensive line and looking to make hits, so they're different roles."
Vito said the team had spent time looking at how Ireland played in this year's Six Nations.
It was a tournament where Ireland won only two games, against Scotland and Italy, and it has left Ireland head coach Declan Kidney under some pressure to keep his job, especially as they went out to Wales in the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup.
But from what Vito had seen, he's expecting Ireland to play the ball up the middle on Saturday.
"They're quite innovative and they come up with new things all of the time but if it's anything like it normally is, it will be a big forward pack against us trying to rumble up.
"That's where it starts and for me, that's where my role starts too, trying to stop them there.
"We'll be expecting a pretty direct approach. That's what we've seen in the Six Nations with Ireland games.
"But that's best-guess stuff ... they might bring a really expansive game at the weekend, we've got to be prepared for either scenario."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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