Alamy Stock Photo Victor Vito.
# Confident
Victor Vito's former La Rochelle teammates have 'blueprint' to retain Champions Cup
Absence of Johnny Sexton could be a telling factor as the game wears on, former All Black says.

FORMER NEW ZEALAND and La Rochelle back-rower Victor Vito said the French club have the “blueprint” to defend the Champions Cup when they play Leinster in the final on Saturday.

Vito, 36, returned to hometown Wellington after ending his six-year stint on the Atlantic coast by lifting the title last season.

This weekend’s match in Dublin will be a rerun of last May’s decider.

“They’ve got a blueprint of success from last year which makes it easier,” Vito said.

“The calmness that needs to come around you emotionally, spiritually when these games come up and the maturity is all there.

“If anything, they’ve gone a step ahead and I’m really looking forward to the game,” he added.

Vito added the Champions Cup to an impressive trophy haul which included two Rugby World Cups with the All Blacks as well as the 2016 Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes.

He chose against accepting offers to continue playing after leaving La Rochelle to spend time with his family.

“I’m pretty much a glorified taxi driver for my kids now taking them back and forth to their sports at the weekend and then during the week for training and school,” he said.

“I’m pretty content and proud of the record I’ve had.

“I can say I’ve done my bit and be pretty happy with the way in which I’ve left all my jerseys,” he added.

‘Big bodyguards’

Vito’s former teammates at Stade Marcel-Deflandre include France prop Uini Atonio and Australia lock Will Skelton, who both weigh more than 140kg each.

“Those guys are like our pillars, the big bodyguards, you have to get past those two to get to our team,” Vito said.

“Will’s a massive character, people talk about his size but rugby-wise he’s got a good brain, he knows the game and the opposition really well.

“A guy like Uini Atonio is another smart cookie. He tries to give off that he’s just a joker and all that but he’s quite calculated, he knows what he’s doing, he’s a big part of the success in that La Rochelle squad,” he added.

Vito missed last year’s final in the baking heat in Marseille due to injury, along with fellow ex-All Black in scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

“Tawera is also really important, he’s one of the best nines in the world, helping to direct La Rochelle’s play,” Vito said.

“I’ll be giving him a call this week too, to see how the boys are doing, how they’re training and give him some stick to get it in there,” he added.

At Lansdowne Road this weekend, the Irish province, eyeing a joint-record fifth Champions Cup, will be without Ireland captain and influential fly-half Johnny Sexton because of a groin issue.

“With Johnny not being there, early on it might not make a difference but as the game wears on, potentially the experience La Rochelle have of winning the game last year, and having a decent bench, I’m backing my guys to win,” Vito said.

– © AFP 2023

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