Victor Vito is aiming to hunt down attackers with "cold-blooded" precision as he tries to nail down a job as the All Blacks defensive hitman.
The Wellingtonian has reclaimed the No. 6 jersey to play Argentina, as the search for Jerome Kaino's successor continues in Wellington tomorrow night.
Kaino redefined the role of the blindside during the past two seasons, particularly with his jarring defence.
And if anyone wondered how seriously the current All Blacks loose forwards take their tackling, Vito made it crystal-clear.
"I try to stay quite level-headed really, and if anything it's about being a cold-blooded hunter rather than a hot-headed one who's probably going to do the wrong move but might get a good hit on someone," he said after replacing Liam Messam in the starting side.
"Liam's set a really good bar with the physicality, along with all the other loosies as well. I really don't want to be the one who's left behind there. If anything, I want to take the yardstick out a bit further."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Vito had earned his chance rather than Messam doing anything particularly wrong.
Vito's last test start was the first test of the season against Ireland in Auckland where a knee injury saw him relinquish the role to Adam Thomson.
Thomson lacked physical impact during the narrow second-test win over the Irish in Christchurch, and since then Messam has done a decent enough job.
But Vito made his mark with some thumping tackles during a 15-minute cameo against Australia in Auckland two weeks ago, and again for Wellington against Southland on Sunday.
He made his name as a natural ball runner, but No 8 Kieran Read did a good job explaining why big defence is so crucial to the blindside's role.
"It's definitely key. The number six is always in that position where he's taking maybe the first forward around the corner or up in the line, so it is important they are strong there and able to make offensive tackles."
Opensides and No 8s are often involved in the first contact from scrum or lineout, while the blindside can zero in on the ball carrier from the second phase. It's there that a dominant tackle can really kill the opposition's momentum.
"That's what you expect out of that jersey now. A physical number six can be great for a team's defence," Read said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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