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Nobody would quite spell it out bluntly, but Victor Vito's switch to No 8 was as much about his halves T J Perenara and Beauden Barrett as anything else.
After two weeks at blindside flanker, Vito reverts to his preferred position against the Crusaders tomorrow night, with Brad Shields shifting to the blindside.
Coach Mark Hammett was at pains to say the switch was not due to the form of his loose forwards.
"I'm really happy with how Brad's going. It's probably just more around experience at No 8 and decision-making in crucial parts of the game," he said.
"It's not that Brad's not going well, but sometimes you just need someone to put their hand up and take over. Victor's a test All Black, been around a long time, playing his 50th game this weekend, so we just think that will assist with decision-making in that eight, nine, 10 area."
Hammett's right. Although Shields has had a couple of handling issues, his general play has been sound. He's run hard, made plenty of tackles, and cleaned out rucks efficiently.
What he doesn't appear to have been able to do is overrule or guide his halves at crucial times. That's something Vito, with 20 tests to his name, should be able to do in his 50th Super Rugby match.
An authoritative and more physical figure off the back of the scrum should put Perenara and Barrett on the front foot, particularly out of defensive situations.
Vito seemed glad yesterday to be back in a more familiar role and encouragingly licking his lips at the prospect of going head to head with Crusaders captain Kieran Read.
"It's going to be really exciting marking a guy like Kieran Read," he said. "I prefer eight. I feel my game is better suited to eight, but it's about helping the team where I need to."
Though the Hurricanes are focusing on more than one player, Vito didn't shy away from the importance of blunting Read's ability to stamp his mark.
"Kieran is a big player for them especially in terms of his ball carrying. In a losing effort last week [against the Blues] he still managed to shine. Those are the types of guys you have to nullify."
Meanwhile, the Crusaders feature Israel Dagg's return to fullback. Johnny McNicholl starts on the right wing with Tom Marshall on the left, while Tom Taylor and Adam Whitelock drop to the reserves. In the pack Dominic Bird comes in at lock for the injured Luke Romano (ribs) and Tom Donnelly joins the bench.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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