Rugby: Vito eyes blindside flanker berth

By Dylan Cleaver

Victor Vito. Photo / Getty Images
Victor Vito. Photo / Getty Images

Victor Vito is building an impressive case to link with Kieran Read and Richie McCaw in the loose forwards for the June internationals.

The Hurricanes have not won a game since Easter as their playoff hopes have been detonated, but Vito has maintained impressive form among the rubble. The 25-year-old made a rails run to be included in last year's World Cup squad, but played a limited role at the sharp end of the tournament as Read returned from injury and Jerome Kaino continued his indomitable form.

The latter is taking his talents to Toyota, opening a spot for a blindside flanker.

Vito wants that spot and feels the fact he's more usually found wearing No 8 for the Hurricanes should not be held against him.

"Right now if you can play No 8 they can picture you as a No 6 as well. That's what I'm hoping," Vito, who has 13 test caps, eight as a substitute, said. "I have to focus on the Hurricanes campaign and help out my team first.

"No 8's got a different skillset. It's a little bit harder, controlling the ball at the back of the scrum and being a little more active in terms of that defensive line once the ball's out. I'm guessing, but I think they'll see that if you can play eight, you can play six as well."

Vito said he hasn't been told by the All Black panel that they wanted him to focus on the core roles required to play blindside, just that if he keeps putting commanding performances on the board for the Hurricanes, he'll "be in with a sniff".

There are others in with a sniff as well, either through form or reputation.

Adam Thomson's progress has stalled after a storming start for the Highlanders, while Liam Messam has been getting stronger by the week for the Chiefs.

George Whitelock has been his usual no-nonsense self at the Crusaders but the real wildcard would be whether Steve Hansen and co felt they would get more mileage out of Richie McCaw in the No 6 jersey.

Vito's claims will be hard to turn down. Little more than a week ago he engaged in an epic battle with Kieran Read. The All Black No 8 might have shaded that contest, but Vito was at the least the second-best player on Westpac Stadium.

On Saturday, against the Chiefs, he was again excellent in a losing team.

"On a personal level, it's the most consistent campaign I've had," Vito said. "I probably started a bit slowly, but I felt like I was nutting my core roles down and have started to try to add little bits to my game in the past couple of weeks."

The All Blacks under Graham Henry always wanted Vito to play a little tighter and a lot meaner. There was a concern that although you could convince players to do their work in narrower channels, you just couldn't teach mean.

When he was maligned and subsequently dropped after making a defensive misread against the Wallabies in Sydney in 2009, there was genuine concern Vito was too loose for test footy. That fear has been alleviated over the past 12 months and he'd like the chance to prove that. Just as Kaino went from flighty to flinty, he has tightened the bolts on his game too.

- NZ Herald

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