Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Vito in prime position to solve No 8 conundrum

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Victor Vito seems to be more comfortable in the No8 jersey, writes Justin Marshall. Photo / NZPA
Victor Vito seems to be more comfortable in the No8 jersey, writes Justin Marshall. Photo / NZPA

The re-emergence of Victor Vito and the absence of Steven Luatua is an indication that the search for a world-class back-up to Kieran Read is on.

I've written before that the All Black game plan revolves heavily around the amazing ability of Kieran Read both from the base of the scrum and when he roams one in from the touchline.

His absence from the Crusaders this year due to recurring problems from head knocks would have had alarm bells ringing in the All Black camp. They need to establish a world-class backup.

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The selection of Vito tells me they think he can be that man, because he has shown that he doesn't quite measure up as an international blindside. He's more comfortable in the No8 jersey.

The other option is Jerome Kaino, who has been as good as anybody at that position this year. He obviously has great credentials at blindside as well.

That's probably the biggest talking point in the squad, although I'm surprised, with the depth we have in these positions, that the selectors have opted for three first-fives and three halfbacks, yet they've only selected two hookers.

Maybe they haven't seen anybody who they believe is genuine international class behind Keven Mealamu and Dane Coles, but if either of those two gets injured, surely they know who the next in line is? It might have made more sense to have that guy in camp with them, rather than say Colin Slade or TJ Perenara, who shape as the third-choice first-five and halfback respectively.

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But that's the selectors' prerogative and overall they've picked a very good, well-balanced team.

I like the selection of Patrick Tuipulotu at lock and Malakai Fekitoa in the centres. I hope we get to see Fekitoa get a good run in particular. It will be no easy task against Manu Tuilagi and a quality England team, but we need to start seeing what we've got behind Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu in the centres.

It's all very well saying we've got Sonny Bill Williams coming back next season, but he might take time to reintegrate effectively again and it would be a massive gamble for the selectors to throw all their eggs in that basket.

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Chiefs really have lost the plot
Super Rugby takes a back seat for the next month, but the weekend's matches showed just what a tight, unpredictable competition this is.

The Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders all had huge opportunities to put themselves right into playoff contention and all of them blew it, some worse than others.

I've had concerns about the Chiefs for some time now and the loss to the Waratahs in New Plymouth, with a lot of the same frailties they showed against the Hurricanes the previous weekend, has confirmed my fears. You can almost put a line through them.

The Highlanders have endured two gutting losses in a row. They've been picking up enough bonus points to stay in touch, but they have a tough road home now. Their loss to the Reds, after they had shown so much ticker to come back, was tough to take.

I was listening to the game on the radio after attending a sports awards in Invercargill. All the drama was taking place as I was between Lumsden and Athol. My reception was starting to break up, I was getting commentary in waves between the AM crackle.

I heard the Highlanders score the try that brought them level. I heard the commentators say the Reds were kicking off with 21 seconds remaining. There was a bit of crackle before I heard Phil Burleigh had kicked it back to the Reds. The next thing I heard was the Australian commentators screaming "TRY, TRY!" I was screaming, "Why did you kick it to them?" It sent the wrong message: the Highlanders weren't interested in trying to win. It's a passive approach. You're saying to the Reds, "You try to come and beat us".

The Hurricanes were outplayed by the Blues. Both these teams are too difficult to get an accurate read on. They're up and down, week to week.

I've heard the Blues still think they're a shot for the playoffs. It's not impossible, but it's highly improbable. It's one thing to be pumping your tyres after a win at Eden Park, but they have to win away from home before I get too excited.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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