Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Rookie ready to step up - Kirwan

20-year-old Hickey chosen at first-five against Crusaders.

Simon Hickey. Photo / Dean Purcell
Simon Hickey. Photo / Dean Purcell

Sir John Kirwan has put his faith in 20-year-old first-five Simon Hickey, a player yet to make his Super Rugby debut, to guide his Blues team against the Crusaders as they seek to avoid their second defeat of the season.

Chris Noakes, a player back from a neck operation who looked off his game in the first half of last weekend's 29-21 defeat to the Highlanders but improved in the second half, has been dropped from the squad for tomorrow's match at Eden Park.

Noakes impressed last season with his steady play but Kirwan wasn't in the mood to allow him to feel his way into the season - a bit like opposite Todd Blackadder, who has axed his No 10 Tyler Bleyendaal and dropped All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg to the reserves bench.

"It was always my favourite game to watch when I was younger, the Blues versus the Crusaders."
Blues no 10 - Simon Hickey

Now Hickey, like Noakes, a King's College old boy, has been given the reins for what has been one of the traditional rivalries of the game in New Zealand.

"It was always my favourite game to watch when I was younger, the Blues versus the Crusaders, and I remember going to watch the final in 2003 so I can't wait to get out there and actually play against them," Hickey said.

Kirwan has persisted with his policy of easing Benji Marshall into his new code - the 29-year-old, who played 22 minutes at fullback in Dunedin - is again on the bench.

Hickey, who was aged 9 when he watched the Blues in their final victory at Eden Park 11 years ago - the last time the franchise won a title - is not even a full member of the Blues squad. As a wider training group member, he is on a much reduced salary, but the steadiness he showed for Auckland in last year's ITM Cup and his form in training has been enough to convince Kirwan. He was also a member of last year's New Zealand Under-20 team.

"He's had the same pathway as [Aaron] Cruden and he's got the calmness of Foxy [Grant Fox] so I think he's a mature young man who's ready for the next step," said Kirwan.

"I've got complete faith in him and he's ready."

With Kieran Read named in a Crusaders team looking to bounce back from their disappointing opener against the Chiefs in Christchurch, Hickey is expecting a fair bit of attention from a loose forward trio also including Richie McCaw and George Whitelock. Hickey also confirmed he will be kicking for goal.

"I guess they'll be coming at me," he said. "You get that in any game. I guess they're better than most but I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Blues skipper Luke Braid has recovered quicker than expected from an ankle sprain, with Kirwan expecting him to play. However first-five Baden Kerr, who cracked a bone his left thumb pre-season, had hoped to be available to play the Bulls in Pretoria next weekend, but now won't make the trip.

Kirwan acknowledged his side were under pressure. "I wouldn't deny I'd be a happier man getting on the plane [for South Africa] with some points on Saturday," he said.

Video

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 21 Dec 2014 11:27:57 Processing Time: 513ms