Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Vito gets chance to shine

All Black captain Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu practise an attacking option in Wellington as Cory Jane looks on.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Black captain Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu practise an attacking option in Wellington as Cory Jane looks on. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Victor Vito gets his chance to impress as the All Black selectors filter the qualities of their blindside flankers in their next challenge from Argentina.

Shorn of the ironman engine and defensive sting of Jerome Kaino this season because of injury and his exit to Japan, the selectors settled on three men to audition for his test place.

Vito, Adam Thomson and Liam Messam each started a test against Ireland before Messam continued for the two Bledisloe Cup contests.

He played more consistently and constructively than he has in his previous internationals.

But for this Rugby Championship test on Saturday at the Cake Tin, coach Steve Hansen and his panel have whistled up Vito and several more "locals" to the starting combination.

One was a no-brainer. Conrad Smith has been given his optical warrant of fitness after his detached retina troubles and is at centre and in harness with buddy Ma'a Nonu.

Smith will be short of match fitness after six weeks recovering from eye surgery but his organisation should bring better direction to the backline.

On his left side, at least from set pieces, he will have Julian Savea ready to go once more after several months dwelling on his last unsteady test against Ireland. A mix of defensive issues beset Savea that night in Christchurch. However, the coaches believe in the young wing's talent and have worked hard to get him in the right state to have another crack at test rugby.

Up front, Tony Woodcock's medical clearance on his rib cartilage problem, meant the squad's best loosehead prop was an automatic pick to counter the Pumas scrum.

And Brodie Retallick is pushed into the engine room where he will partner Luke Romano for the first time in a test. Retallick has had a huge workload this year and the selectors knew they had to give the young man some respite somewhere. He got that from the bench against the Wallabies and is now primed to see how he and Romano as a combination compare against the rugged visiting pack.

The five changes and a positional switch for Nonu offer this group the stage to demand reselection next week when the Springboks arrive for their duel in Dunedin.

Hansen said the All Blacks' focus was on being far more accurate with their decisions this weekend.

"It is going to be very physical, especially up front where they are traditionally very strong," he said.

"We also have immense respect for their backline abilities plus they have one of the best defensive structures in modern rugby," Hansen added.

There are eight survivors from the side which started the subsequent 33-10 quarter-final victory against Argentina. Five of those forwards return - Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read while Conrad Smith, Jane and Nonu were in the backs.

That group will face some of the ideas promoted by their former coach Graham Henry who is guiding the Pumas side during the Rugby Championship. He was, Pumas coach Santiago Phelan suggested, drilling Argentina on their methods rather than offering any ideas about countering the All Black strategies.

There's a new billboard slogan somewhere in that suggestion isn't there?

ALL BLACKS

Wellington, 7.35pm Saturday

Israel Dagg
Cory Jane
Conrad Smith
Ma'a Nonu
Julian Savea
Daniel Carter
Aaron Smith
Kieran Read
Richie McCaw (c)
Victor Vito
Brodie Retallick
Luke Romano
Owen Franks
Keven Mealamu
Tony Woodcock

ARGENTINA

M. Rodriguez
G. Camacho
M. Bosch
S. Fernandez
H. Agulla
J.Hernandez
N.Vergallo
JMF Lobbe (c)
JM Leguizamon
JF Cabello
P. Albacete
M.Carizza
J. Figallo
E. Guinazu
R. Roncero

All Blacks: Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina, Samuel Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.

Argentina: To be named.

- NZ Herald

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