Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Noakes reclaims top spot in battle of No 10s

He's the right man to face the Hurricanes in the Cake Tin, says Blues coach ... but ousted Hickey is still in the picture.

Chris Noakes will start in what is likely to be a wet and windy game against the Hurricanes. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Chris Noakes will start in what is likely to be a wet and windy game against the Hurricanes. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Chris Noakes knows how Simon Hickey is feeling.

Noakes has been dropped twice this season after starting in the away defeats against the Highlanders and Lions. Now he gets another turn in tomorrow's match against the Hurricanes in Wellington, while Hickey pays the price for his performance in the loss to the Brumbies in Canberra.

Hickey admitted to being disappointed yesterday at the decision, but the 20-year-old, who had quickly overtaken Noakes as the first-choice No 10 at the Blues, could console himself with the thought he will probably get another chance sooner rather than later.

Noakes, however, is determined not to let that happen.

"Watching the last few weeks has been frustrating - you always want to play," he said. "I'm excited about being back."

Noakes, an almost ever-present at No 10 last season before his neck injury, said he had worked on his game and had regained confidence by playing for his University club and the Blues development team.

"A lot of it was urgency around attack - to be a bit more aggressive at the line to enable our outsides to have more time on the ball without as many defenders in front of them.

"Simon has certainly taken his opportunities and played really well, so he's set the mark where we need to be. I need to get there and hopefully above so he has to pick himself up a little bit higher and our team is winning more games than it's losing."

Blues coach John Kirwan said the challenge of playing the Hurricanes at what would probably be a wet and windy Cake Tin suited Noakes' game and denied Hickey had been discarded.

"No, not at all. I think it was the greatest learning he could have had. It was a hard evening for him, he'll come out of it a better player. We still think he is a huge part of our future but we think Noakesy is the right person to play against the Hurricanes.

"I just think we need a bit more direction under pressure ... someone that will drive us around the football paddock and implement the game plan we need to play."

Hickey won't make the trip after missing a place in the reserves. The under-employed Benji Marshall will cover first-five and fullback.

The battle of the first-fives is likely to play an important part tomorrow. Beauden Barrett is approaching his best form for the Hurricanes, who have won their past two games.

Halfback TJ Perenara also appears to have got his mojo back. Facing him will be the inexperienced Bryn Hall, who also had a tough time in Canberra.

The Blues will field a strong pack with hooker Keven Mealamu back from his calf injury and Tom Donnelly and Patrick Tuipulotu also returning from leg injuries. Wing Lolagi Visinia gets his first start of the season, ahead of Frank Halai, who has been underwhelming.

Kirwan will ask Ma'a Nonu to take the pressure off Noakes after a quiet game against the Brumbies.

Hurricanes v Blues
Wellington, 7.35pm

Hurricanes
Andre Taylor
Cory Jane
Conrad Smith +
Alapati Leiua
Julian Savea
Beauden Barrett
T.J. Perenara
Victor Vito
Jack Lam
Faifili Levave
James Broadhurst
Jeremy Thrush
J.Toomaga-Allen
Dane Coles
Reg Goodes

Hurricanes: Motu Matu'u, Chris Eves, John Schwalger, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Chris Smylie, Tim Bateman, Matt Proctor.

Blues
Charles Piutau
George Moala
Francis Saili
Ma'a Nonu
Lolagi Visinia
Chris Noakes
Bryn Hall
Jerome Kaino
Luke Braid +
Steven Luatua
Tom Donnelly
Patrick Tuipulotu
Charlie Faumuina
Keven Mealamu
Tony Woodcock

Blues: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Benji Marshall, Frank Halai.

- APNZ

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