Victor gets a winning chance at No 8


Victor Vito has arguably the most to gain when the reshuffled All Blacks side play Scotland in Edinburgh tomorrow.

The back row and the new-look midfield are the big talking points heading into the tour-opener.

Steve Hansen's an interesting character. The coach is being innovative but he's also happy to give early signals of his intentions.

Therefore there aren't too many surprises in his selections or tactics.

Once again, Hansen was as good as his word in forecasting some major changes in his lineup.

The selections have been very stable this year, contributing to the All Blacks' unbeaten run. There have been one or two players rotated here and there but the core of the team has remained intact, especially during the Rugby Championship.

So this team to play Scotland represents a significant shift in approach.

Clearly Hansen and his management are exploring their options tomorrow and you can expect the same next weekend in Rome when they play Italy.

You could say these two tests are almost trials for some players before the All Blacks get down to the real business of taking on Wales and England to finish the tour.

Without the midweek games of old tours, the All Blacks have to now look at doing some experimenting against teams they would class as lesser opposition.

In these PC days, the All Blacks will say everything to the contrary, but that's the reality of what we will witness over the next two tests.

I'm excited for Vito because I think he's been handed an assignment in his best position, No 8.

He's been on the fringe of the test team for a while now without really cracking it. Kieran Read is the established No 8 and will be there for many years and we all know that Richie McCaw is in a class of his own at No 7.

That has left everyone else battling for the blindside position vacated by Jerome Kaino. It's fair to say that Vito was overtaken by Liam Messam in that race this year.

"Experimental" games can be tricky with players being tried out of positions and Vito has been a victim of that in the past. But as I said, he's in his preferred role off the back of the scrum and he's got to make the most of this opportunity.

Your back row needs to be a combination and Vito hasn't managed to click with Read previously. But he's a good ball-runner and this opportunity should allow him to shine.

We need a good backup to Read and this is Vito's opportunity to show that he is that player.

He couldn't choose a better game to try and establish that. The Scots are a decent outfit with a big pack. But they aren't the Springboks and you'd expect Vito's power and athleticism to shine.

It's a similar scenario in the midfield where Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith get a chance as a combination, replacing Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, who have established themselves as the most dynamic duo in this key area in the test arena.

Nonu and Smith are no spring chickens, so the All Blacks need to start looking ahead.

Interestingly, Ellison and Ben Smith aren't exactly youngsters themselves. They're good utilities and they've generally battled each other for that role on the bench. But here's a chance to show their worth, working at each other's shoulders.

Their selection is probably the biggest risk Hansen has taken.

But is it really that big a risk? Yes, the Scots talk a lot of passion and they beat the Wallabies Down Under during our winter.

But they have a poor record against New Zealand, particularly in recent times, and that suggests they should get another hiding.

I don't wish to appear arrogant, but I'd say that if Scotland can keep the All Blacks' winning margin to under 20 points they will have done well.

Considering their good form and lofty perch at the top of the rankings and world champion status, the All Blacks have the most to lose in this test if they put in a sub-par performance.

The same can be said of some of these fringe players. There's plenty of pressure on them. But that's what Hansen wants. It's the players that can come through this assignment that he knows he can rely on moving forward.

- Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

Sunday News