Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: 'Unwanted' West to lead attack

Simon Hickey. Photo / Getty Images
Simon Hickey. Photo / Getty Images

The rise of Simon Hickey from the Blues' wider training group to starting No 10 makes you realise things can change quickly in professional rugby.

In the case of Ihaia West, the change has been even more rapid.

From being unwanted by any of New Zealand's franchises at the start of the season despite his sparkling form for Hawkes Bay in the national provincial championship, he will lead the Blues' attack against the Hurricanes at Eden Park tonight.

Which brings us to perhaps the unluckiest player at the Blues this season - Baden Kerr. Perhaps the next unluckiest, Chris Noakes, another first-five, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a ruptured bicep. This has come on top of a concussion injury this year, but at least he played three times for the Blues and has the carrot of a contract at London Irish to look forward to.

In Kerr's case, he hasn't played a competition game for the franchise this year after breaking fingers in a pre-season match. His next game will probably be for Counties Manukau.

Beyond that, he may have to seek opportunities elsewhere because with Hickey, West and Dan Bowden in the mix for the Blues next season, there might not be room for Kerr.

"It's going to be difficult," coach Sir John Kirwan said this week. "It's going to be pretty squashed there. We're at the stage of the season where we're looking at next year's squad and, like any business, some people can stay, others have to leave. "

Kerr, about to turn 25, still has plenty of rugby ahead of him. He led Counties Manukau throughout last year's Ranfurly Shield heroics and has shown mental strength and determination in playing through a migraine problem which means he often has headaches after matches.

Unfortunately for him, he wasn't available to take advantage of the failed Benji Marshall experiment, or the fact Noakes couldn't reproduce his form of last year. Instead, Hickey, 20, and West, 22, have taken their chances and, with former Highlander and Crusader Bowden returning from Leicester Tigers to provide insurance at No 10 and second-five at the Blues, Kirwan is about to put his faith in the two youngsters.

Kirwan will seek to sign up West and put Hickey on an upgraded contract and it wouldn't surprise if the former starts next season as the Blues' first choice No 10.

- APNZ

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