Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Vito's time to deliver on promise

Blindside is running out of chances to finally stake his claim.

The conversion of Victor Vito from brilliant athlete to world-class rugby player must begin tonight.

Vito, the man who held the nation spellbound at the 2008 Wellington Sevens and never since, has accepted that time is running out: he's been a tease, hinted at what might be about to come and then suddenly gone cold.

A thunderclap of a man, he's packaged in such a way that he could bring Armageddon to test rugby, but conspicuously hasn't. In his 21 tests to date, he's been a 110kg bundle of not fully utilised promise.

He has frustrated the coaching staff. More importantly, though, he's frustrated himself and he knows his All Black career will be unsustainable based on previous form. New Plymouth represents a new start for Vito - a chance to begin a genuine assault on the All Black No6 jersey and put pressure on incumbent Liam Messam.

"I have been one of those fringe All Blacks who has come in and out," says Vito. "Last year was actually my first full year as an All Black - before then I was pretty erratic - in and out and that pretty much sums up where I have been.

Delivering in patches - just not quite delivering when I got my opportunity.

"What I have delivered is actually what my career has shown - good in patches but now I want to focus and make sure every time I get a chance out there I am clear - it is just tackle hard, run hard and if you get the chance - clean some guys out."

The simplicity with which Vito now sees his role is reflective of the time he's spent with All Black mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka in the past two weeks.

A classics scholar, not only has Vito tended to be weighed down mentally by the deeper meanings and allegories of The Iliad when he's come into camp with the All Blacks, he's also been guilty of loading his hard drive with too vast a vision of what his job actually entails.

He's prone to trying to do too much on the field. He's felt the need to impress quickly and spectacularly - to be a runner, a tackler, a fetcher, a lineout option, a cleanout man and ball player. He's too often been a thin spread of generic skills rather than a cluster of the specific.

Now he understands that the expectations of a test blindside are relatively small: clobber people when in possession and clobber them when not in possession.

"I have to de-clutter my mind," he says. "I have had a problem with that in the past - sometimes people in the past have said you are intellectual blah, blah, blah ... but that can work against you as well in a team like this where all they expect of you is that you will do one job.

"They don't expect you to be covering other people's jobs because everyone is good enough to do their own. I just have to worry about six, not six, seven and eight. Once you get your starting opportunity the key is that you have the clarity - you can perfect that one position."

A reminder that the clock is ticking for Vito will be the hulking form of Steven Luatua on the bench. His presence is, unquestionably, an indication that the selectors won't persevere with Vito should they not see the improvements they are after.

If Vito can't deliver after having it spelled out that his All Black career is on the line, then hope will fade to almost nothing: he could be written off as someone physically but not quite mentally equipped to be an All Black regular.

He accepts that scenario will become the inevitable conclusion that has to be reached, but it's not something that unduly threatens him. If anything, he's been energised by the arrival of the new man, enjoyed being reminded that he's in a high-pressure environment where the expectations are unrelenting.

"Not everyone wants it to be all or nothing but it is a big year for me and I need to take the opportunities," he says. "I have been here a little while now and being in and out for five or six years isn't really my plan. There is a lot of young talent coming through.

"He's [Luatua] the young guy and he's been playing some awesome rugby this year. He's 22, the young buck, I'm the old man now at 26. They [new young players] bring a lot of excitement, they are the next cabs off the rank."

The checklist

Hansen's vision for All Black blindsides

"We want him to do his core role. You need a skill-set that covers off the lineout: a skill-set that covers off being good at the breakdown. You want a ball-carrier and you want a physicality on defence - that is what we are looking for."

- NZ Herald

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