Rugby: Weepu and Vito miss out

Piri Weepu and Victor Vito's strong tour form has not been enough to reward them with starts against Wales on Sunday.

Both have enormous talent but have suffered in their search to be regular test players.

Weepu has issues losing weight and staying at his optimal playing condition and Vito can be guilty of overthinking his game and getting lost in theory rather than playing more by instinct.

However, on this All Black tour, coach Steve Hansen has seen enormous advances by the pair which produced lively discussion with Ian Foster about the side to start against Wales.

Eventually they stayed with the status quo in Aaron Smith at halfback and Liam Messam on the blindside but it was a tight tussle.

Despite splitting the squad for the tests against Scotland and Italy, the selectors came to the conclusion that the bulk of the team they had favoured this season should get the chance in Cardiff.

"Piri Weepu's performance was the one we have been searching for," Hansen said. "Outside probably the Wellington game, his performance against Scotland was outstanding. Not only did we see his experience but we saw him getting to the breakdown and clearing the ball the way we would like him.

"But at the end of the day we just felt that Azza [Aaron Smith] has played well all year and he can give us a good start and Pow will come off the bench at some point."

Several young players [Brad Shields, Luke Whitelock] were rising loose forwards and there was always the chance Jerome Kaino could return from Japan.

However, at this stage blindside was a battle between Messam and Vito with Adam Thomson left out again as the IRB chose to appeal the penalty their judiciary imposed on the flanker for his misdeed against Scotland.

"Liam has really stepped up this year and I think we saw something in Victor's game against Scotland which was much improved. I think he has allowed himself, for want of a better term, to think too much rather than just play and do."

Against Scotland his more relaxed approach allowed his talents to flow.

Smith had a bruised left knee but would be fine to start.

Wing Julian Savea was scoring tries and had added an offload to his game and his try assists were on the rise. He felt more comfortable and the All Black selectors had noticed that.

Cardiff was a daunting atmosphere and if the crowd fired up that would be another hurdle for the young wing to conquer.

"We know that Wales have been thinking about this game since the semifinal last year of the World Cup. They will be really up for it and if we allow them to get into the game the crowd will play a part," Hansen said.

Keven Mealamu was not risked because of his history of calf injuries while the same approach was taken with Beauden Barrett who has sore ribs.

Dane Coles had shown progress on tour and the selectors felt comfortable having him on the bench as back-up for Andrew Hore.

There was little between Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick but the decision was to start with the ball-carrying bulk of Romano before bringing on more energy from Retallick later.

The panel was mindful Retallick was still only a young man in his first big season of Super and test rugby.

- By Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald

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