Vito looks ahead to next chapter

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But a final decision will depend on how the 33-Test veteran feels physically.

 

He told Midi Olympique, "I have several options. I'll be 35. For now, I am very focused on the current season. I'm back from injury. After that, maybe I'll retire, maybe not. It will depend on my body."

 

Vito, a World Cup winner with the All Blacks in 2011 and 2015, joined La Rochelle in 2016.

 

He said before the onset of Covid-19 he might have looked to stay in France after retiring, but heading home with his wife and three children, the youngest two being born in France, was his priority.

 

He was keen to be close to his parents.

 

"My priorities are a little different now. If I had the chance to bring them here, of course we could stay. But with the pandemic and the distance, I find there are too many risks," he said.

 

Vito was last in New Zealand in February last year.

 

He had enjoyed his life in France, had embraced the language and the culture and said his ability to learn the language had been helped because he could also speak Samoan where the sentence construction was the same as French.

 

 

"I wanted to come with my wife to enjoy maybe six months of life. But I never thought I'd live a real life around rugby. Now I have played more than a hundred times for La Rochelle in five years. I never would have imagined that. Frankly, I have no regrets. I am very grateful for everything I have experienced here," he said.

 

Vito said former Hurricane Jason Eaton, La Rochelle's captain, played a big part in his choosing, La Rochelle, over other offers he had received to play in England or Ireland.

 

While the club had been a middle of the table performer, Eaton told him good people were working hard to lift the club.

 

"He told me about the qualities of these guys. It became a real project to bring my energy to this group. We've grown up a lot since then," he said.

 

However, he said it had taken time to fit into life in a city, close to the ocean like Wellington.

 

"It's always cool to have a new experience. I was a little naïve, I was just very happy to be here. I had no expectations. I couldn't play for the All Blacks any more. I was just here to create another life with my family and give my best for this team.

 

"It did not come immediately. For the first three or four months I was not at my best, but by the end of the season I was much better," he said.

 

That was evident in his being named the best player of the 2016-17 season for the club.

 

But he said he took time to settle while his family settled in. He was also concerned when his son was born six weeks premature, and he took time to mix with his teammates.

 

"After that, it's amazing how we were received," he said.

Vito said he had been surprised by some of the attitudes he found at the club, especially the barrier to winning away from home, something La Rochelle hadn't done in two seasons. But they managed to win three consecutive games away.

 

"I thought it was weird. In New Zealand you don't see that. I felt a lot of pride to be in a team that took so much pleasure in winning just one away game. It was cool to find that spirit. Little by little, we all believed in it," he said.

 

While others had credited his arrival with the change, Vito said all the players were already there, he just happened along at the right time to take advantage of it.

 

Vito said players were too respectful of their opponents but he would say to them 'why not try to take them on?' They could still respect them but needed more confidence in their ability to compete with them.

 

"They began to believe more. We grew up, we adopted a winning attitude," he said.

 

That resulted in leading the Top 14 that year only to be beaten in the semifinals by Toulon due to a last-second dropped goal.

 

"Since then we have learned a lot. I hope it will finally lead us to a title. We want to be first, but not only in the regular season. We really want to win titles," he said.

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