Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Young gun firing to cement position

Simon Hickey is first choice first-five against the Cheetahs tomorrow night as much for his temperament as for his impressive goal-kicking skills.

Simon Hickey's goal kicking has been impressive. Photo / Getty Images
Simon Hickey's goal kicking has been impressive. Photo / Getty Images

Having established himself as the Blues' first-choice first-five and one of the best goalkickers in the competition, Simon Hickey will tomorrow catch a ride to Eden Park from the Greenlane home he shares with his parents before calmly ordering his more experienced teammates around against the Cheetahs.

Hickey, 20, a wider training group player who has confirmed himself as the Blues' best option at No10 after performing well when starting against the Crusaders and Bulls and as an impact player against the Lions, is not likely to let his sudden rise in profile go to his head. In starting in the pivotal position, Hickey has been rated higher than Chris Noakes, Baden Kerr and Benji Marshall.

A talented cricketer while at King's College, Hickey's temperament has not wavered yet this season - whether it has been getting back up from a late tackle to coolly kicking for goal.

"Now that I have been given the opportunity and have played a few games, I have to try to cement a spot," Hickey said. "I don't want to fall out of that position.

I just have to keep playing well and as a team we really need to pick up our act. It's an important game this weekend and an important few weeks so hopefully we can get on a bit of a roll and get ourselves back into contention."

Hickey's goalkicking has been one of the areas in which he has been very impressive. He is kicking at 93 per cent - better than the far more experienced Aaron Cruden (73 per cent), Tom Taylor (76 per cent) and Beauden Barrett (71 per cent) - and his impressive statistics have probably been helped by the need to simplify his technique. Along with Lions' first-five Marnitz Boshoff, Hickey is the most accurate in the competition among those who have taken more than two shots at goal.

"I used to practice a lot more than I do now. I've had a bit of a niggly groin over the past few years so I only really kick once or twice a week and that's a limited amount of kicking. I think that helps because it simplifies it all in your head and you don't get too confused."

Coach Sir John Kirwan said he was conscious of Hickey's age which was why he started him from the bench against the Lions. In talking about his selection yesterday, Kirwan was also relatively low key.

"I thought he came on last week and really showed some spark." Asked if Hickey was his best No10, Kirwan replied: "I'm going to pick on form and he's on form at the moment so he's getting a start."

For Hickey, the South African trip was all part of his learning experience, as was training alongside the likes of Marshall, Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino.

"South Africa was a different challenge I wasn't really used to. They play a different style of rugby and are pretty physical so that was I guess tough but I learned a bit going over there.

"It's pretty exciting training with some of those players who are up there with the best in their position in the world. It boosts the spirits a little bit in the camp."

- APNZ

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