Rugby: Blues star ready to showcase U20s' flair

By Campbell Burnes

First-five Simon Hickey can’t wait to lead NZ juniors on path to world glory

Simon Hickey hopes to be involved in the game against Samoa. Photo / Getty Images
Simon Hickey hopes to be involved in the game against Samoa. Photo / Getty Images

Simon Hickey may be riding the pine for the Blues tonight, but his thoughts have already turned to the Junior World Championship, starting on Monday, with the New Zealand Under-20 side he captains facing Samoa in Albany.

The 20-year-old first-five will join the camp in Auckland tomorrow but he has already introduced himself to his new teammates. On Wednesday, a rest day for the Blues, he drove down to Mt Maunganui to watch them beat the Chiefs Development XV. He had already done homework on the calls and moves, and attack coach Leon MacDonald briefed him at the game.

While it is not an ideal scenario to have the captain join the squad late, it should not have too much of an ill-effect, even if he doesn't wear the No10 jersey on Monday night.

"Hopefully I'm involved in the Samoa game in some capacity, but I guess we'll just wait and see how the coaches see things from a selection point of view," said Hickey, who will surely suit up as a starter for match two on Friday against South Africa.

Hickey is one of two players - the other being hooker Hame Faiva, plus coach Chris Boyd - to have taken part in the disappointing 2013 JWC campaign in France, where the team placed fourth. He says he is keen to make amends.

"It was disappointing, but every year is a new year and there are only two of us who have come back, so it's about making the most of this group. Hopefully we can get a better result in this tournament."

He likes the look of his backline, with several teammates already with first-class experience, and two others who have played Super Rugby.

"It looks really good, doesn't it? There's plenty of flair out there with a little bit of experience, so hopefully we can get some good ball and make the most of it to score some good tries."

If Hickey is rested, or gets injured, the New Zealand team can call on Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo'unga, both gifted players in their own right. With five games in 19 days, rotation within the squad is likely.

"It's a lot of rugby, but it's a relatively big squad (of 28), so I'm sure everyone will get a crack," Hickey said. "They balance out the workload really well. It'll be making sure you do the recovery and prepare well for the next game."

An Auckland boy who plays for the Grammar TEC club, Hickey said he will relish playing at home, with no shortage of friends and family watching from the sidelines. The New Zealand team to play Samoa on Monday, 7.35pm, at QBE (North Harbour) Stadium will be announced tomorrow.

Simon Hickey will write a weekly column for the Herald during the Junior World Championship tournament.

Six players to watch

Tevita Li (New Zealand)

Tevita Li. Photo / Richard Robinson
Tevita Li. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Blues wing is 19 and has already packed plenty of punch in his young career.

Last year, while still at school, he was called into the national sevens squad, appeared for the Blues against France and played four times for his North Harbour province.

His high point of 2014 was a sparkling solo try against the Crusaders at Eden Park, but he has since struggled to gain real traction and was dropped from tonight's Blues squad for a breach of internal team protocol.

Still, Li should relish seeing more ball and game time with the Under-20s to revive his reputation, earned at school, of being a "wrecking ball".

His teammate Simon Hickey is expecting him to fire on all cylinders: "He's pretty excited to get involved, and I'm sure playing against guys his own age he should be able to do some damaging runs."

We await the fireworks.

Atu Moli (New Zealand)

Moli can play either side of the scrum, always an asset in a squad situation, and should be in the thick of the forward exchanges during this tournament.

The 2013 Marlborough Boys' College head boy led that First XV to a famous Press Cup victory, his form propelled him into the New Zealand Schools side where he wore the No1 jersey in the narrow victory over Australia last season. Three of his teammates join him in the Under 20s. Signed by Waikato, Moli is one of no less than five Waikato University club players in this team. The 18-year-old has appeared for the Chiefs Development XV this season and do not be surprised to see him promoted to Waikato's ITM squad later in 2014. Moli is tall for a prop, but the IRB have him listed as a lock. He will not, it can be said with some surety, be turning out in the second-row during the next three weeks.

Scott Matthews (Wales)

An openside flanker who admires Martyn Williams, one of the great Welsh No 7s, Matthews is in prime form.

We know this because he won the final Principality Premiership Player of the Month for his sterling work with club Cross Keys. The 20-year-old helped Cross Keys into the Swalec Cup and Principality Premiership final. His Wales Under 20s coach Byron Hayward feels he can reach great heights in the game: "If you look at Scott, he hasn't got the physical attributes of most No 7s, he's not that tall, but he's very durable, runs good lines and understands the game really well. Defensively he's very strong. If he kicks on in this tournament, he could have a professional career."

Matthews played two games for Wales in the Under 20 Six Nations and also appeared in the Amlin Challenge Cup and the LV= Cup for the Newport-Gwent Dragons. He has clearly made sound progress.

Tom Staniforth (Australia)

Staniforth is one of two vice-captains of the Australian side as they look to move back up the final placings after some dusty efforts in the six years of the Junior World Championship.

The cousin of former Wallaby Scott Staniforth, Tom did in fact captain the Under-20s against Samoa in a warm-up game, so his leadership ability is not in question.

The 19-year-old Brumbies rookie, at 1.97m, has played one Super Rugby match this year, against the Queensland Reds, went to the 2013 tournament as Australia's third or fourth-ranked lock and ended up playing every minute of every game, scoring a try in his first outing against Ireland.

Australian coach Adrian Thompson likes what Staniforth brings to the squad: "He's just got a really high work-rate. He hits a lot of rucks and is just good for the toughness of the team."

Handre Pollard (South Africa)

We all know South Africa love their No10s, and the Under 20s have placed their faith in a man competing in his third consecutive Junior World Championship.

Pollard is the captain, kicker and tactician of this side as they attempt to win a tough pool, which includes New Zealand. He debuted in 2012 on home soil for the Junior Boks and his boot was instrumental in the final as the hosts lowered New Zealand.

"Handre has grown tremendously and made great strides as a player since making his debut for the SA Under 20s two years ago. He will no doubt command the respect of his team, both with his ability to dictate play from the flyhalf position and his natural leadership skills," said South African coach Dawie Theron.

Like Simon Hickey, Pollard has played a significant role for his Super Rugby side the Bulls in 2014 after making his mark with the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup last season.

Billy Burns (England)

Younger brother of senior England No10 Freddie Burns, Burns will also run the cutter for the defending champions.

Central to England's fortunes will be how the Gloucester No10 functions with halfback and captain Callum Braley, from Bristol. The West Country pair have played together for England Under 18s and Hartpury College.

"We've got a reasonably good relationship, which is fantastic in those positions," said Braley.

Burns grew up admiring the incomparable Jonny Wilkinson, but now draws inspiration from his bro.

He has played through the grades for Somerset Schools and Under-18s and made his Under-20s debut against France in February.

Not a big first five by any measure, the 19-year-old Burns will be hoping to keep his big pack moving in the right direction, starting with Italy in Pukekohe on Monday afternoon.

- NZ Herald

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