Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Vito, not Thomson, the best fit for six

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Victor Vito is emerging as a direct replacement for Jerome Kaino. Photo / Getty Images
Victor Vito is emerging as a direct replacement for Jerome Kaino. Photo / Getty Images

The longer this season has gone on, the more Victor Vito has looked like the right man to replace Jerome Kaino in the All Black No 6 jersey.

Adam Thomson has been outstanding, probably the best blindside in the competition, but he's not the right man for the All Blacks. Thomson is rangy, athletic, great in the lineout and loves to play wide where his speed and skills come into the game. It's great for Super Rugby, but not quite right for the All Blacks where his versatility - he's capable in all three loose forward berths - make him perfect for the bench.

It's Vito who is emerging as a direct replacement for Kaino. Vito the athlete has long been a compelling story. Vito the rugby player - that story is still being written, but is closer to completion.

There is an edge to Vito now that hasn't always been apparent - a willingness to play tighter to the breakdown and make his presence felt in close quarter combat.

The ability to almost decapitate and terrify opponents with one single hit isn't quite there yet. But it also took Kaino some time to develop that skill. The important thing is that Vito is tackling more, driving more, making himself the commanding figure more.

In his first years of Super Rugby his first instinct was to always look for holes. He'd spent time on the wing - perhaps that was only natural and nor was it necessarily to be discouraged.

But there needed to be some balance to his game. His raw power is such that he can drive through opponents and that can open multiple attacking possibilities. That balance is now there. He seems equally capable of driving into contact, sucking in defenders and building go-forward as he does stripping them on the outside. The similarities with Kaino are actually everywhere.

The basis of both their respective games is explosive power and extreme athleticism. It took Kaino several years to mature and find his feet in the test arena and develop the ability to play at his best each week. There were flashes between 2004 and 2007, there were steady bouts in 2008 and 2009, but it wasn't really until 2010 that the best of Kaino was seen all the time.

Vito is a similar slow burner. He made his test debut in 2010 and never quite looked comfortable with the pace and intensity which is why he was omitted from the Grand Slam touring squad. He wasn't initially in the All Blacks last year until midway through the Tri Nations when his ITM Cup form and uncertainty about Liam Messam made the selectors change their minds. Again, though, Vito never quite convinced.

But this year - he looks the business. An aggressive, ball carrying force, ready to smash the hard yards. Never mind that he's been at No 8 all season - it was the same for Kaino for much of his early career and much of the skill-sets are transferable.

Vito, not Thomson, is the right choice for the vacant All Black No 6 jersey.

- Herald on Sunday

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