Vito's chance to stake claim for No 6 jersey

Last updated 05:00 22/06/2013
Victor Vito
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VICTOR VITO: "Getting starts don't come easy in the All Blacks jersey, so I'm pretty excited."

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Three years and two weeks ago, Victor Vito ran back and forth on the sidelines of Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.

It was the 37th minute of a one-off test against Ireland, and blindside flanker Jerome Kaino was injured.

The call came, and Vito became All Black No 1103.

Unfortunately for the former Scots College man, his debut was overshadowed by a brain explosion from Irish No 8 Jamie Heaslip, who, for some reason, thought he could get away with repeatedly putting his knee into All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw's head.

Twenty-five tests on and Vito has yet to establish himself as a regular starter for the world champions.

While fans barely bat an eyelid when he has been called in to replace Kaino or Liam Messam, Vito knows top-drawer performances must become the norm for him as time marches on.

If he needed any remainder of that, he only had to look at the top table of Thursday's All Blacks press conference where a bright-eyed Steven Luatua sat beside coach Steve Hansen.

If that was not motivation enough, then news that Kaino plans to be back in New Zealand sooner rather than later should all but do the trick ahead of tonight's dead-rubber third test against France.

"It's a massive opportunity," Vito said. "Getting starts don't come easy in the All Blacks jersey, so I'm pretty excited about it."

Vito, 26, knows how many times the French have "doused the All Blacks' flame" and he does not want to head back to the Hurricanes camp next week with any anxiety in his head.

The test series might be won, but the battle for many in tonight's All Blacks squad starts or continues from 7.35pm.

"It's been hugely relieving, to be honest, going two-nil up in the series, but we don't want to give them a sniff at all," Vito said.

Asked to evaluate his test career, Vito accepted that he was a fringe All Black.

"Last year was my first full year as an All Black. Before then I was pretty erratic, in and out, and that probably sums up where I have been - delivering in patches without quite hitting the mark." Just why he thinks that is so probably goes to the complexity of the man who thinks deeply, at times too much for his own good.

He admits that and knows the way around it.

"I've just got to declutter my mind. It's a problem that I've had in the past and people say that I'm intellectual, but that can work against you in a team like this where they expect you do to one job," he said.

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"They don't expect you to cover anyone else because everyone is good enough to do their own."

That job, Hansen said, had more than a few aspects to it.

"You need a skill set that covers off the lineout," he said. "You need a skill set that covers off being good at the breakdown.

"He needs to be more of a support player for the 7 or 8. You need a ball carrier and you want some physicality in defence. That's what we are looking for."

Intimidation, which Kaino had, especially at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, was simply a bonus, Hansen said.

So what extra does Vito think he would bring to the test that Messam did not in Auckland and Christchurch?

"I'm not sure," Vito said. "Physicality is a given now because Jerome did set the bar before he left about what is expected of a No 6. We have to bring that week in and week out.

"If anything, maybe the lineout option. I'm a little bit taller and I do a little bit more in the lineouts for the Hurricanes, so that might be the point of difference."

- Fairfax Media

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