Kiwi Abroad - Former NZ under-20 captain Simon Hickey thriving in Europe
The 24-year-old number 10 is scoring more than 10 points a game for his Guinness PRO14 club, having just started a two-season deal.
Flatting with halfback Sean Kennedy, Hickey has found the people welcoming and the city itself a nice place to live. And as a kicker, who would not want to have the manicured Murrayfield as your home patch? He doesn’t have too many problems with the accent, which is more than can be said for his two and a half seasons with French Top 14 club Bordeaux-Begles.
“I’m really enjoying it here so far. It’s a great place to live, though it was zero degrees at training this morning,” says the former Auckland and New Zealand Under 20s captain.
When RugbyPass caught up with him on the blower and asked him his thoughts about Auckland’s Mitre 10 Cup triumph, its first provincial title since Hickey was at King’s College (2007), the man himself admitted he watched it live on the box at his Parma hotel, a few hours after Zebre had defeated Edinburgh. He couldn’t sleep.
“It was some game, wasn’t it? I know from experience these victories are not easy to come by, so I was stoked to see them get over Canterbury. It was awesome rugby in tough conditions.”
The Scots are better educated on the fact that Auckland and the Blues are two different teams, but Hickey had some explaining to do in France.
Hickey is not the sole Kiwi on the Edinburgh books. Prop Simon Berghan, Christchurch-raised, has already joined the Kilted Kiwis ranks by representing Scotland, while flanker Mungo Mason, who was born in Scotland, played for Waikato in 2016, not long out of Tauranga Boys’ College.
“Berghy is into his fourth or fifth season and going really well.
“I didn’t know him, but he’s a good guy and a good footy player too. Mungo has signed on for the Scottish sevens programme, so he could feature in a few tournaments, such as Hamilton, later in the season,” says Hickey.
New Zealanders are always intrigued about Richard Cockerill, now Edinburgh head coach, who had a running battle, on and off the field, with Norm Hewitt in 1997-98. Cockerill helped turned around the club last season, notching up 15 wins in the PRO14.
“He’s hugely passionate and pretty up-front. You know where you stand because he’s black and white. If you don’t reach the standards he sets, he’ll let you know all about it,” says Hickey.
He feels that Edinburgh plays best when they shift the ball and has noticed that difference from his time in Bordeaux, which played more forward-oriented rugby.
“The main difference between my experiences is the professionalism of the Edinburgh set-up.
“That might be a bit to do with the French culture, and I don’t mean to disrespect their culture because I loved my time in France – a lot of what they do is really good – but it’s a bit more laid back over there.
“At Edinburgh, they are more professional with things like S and C, recovery, physio, game plan and tactics, as much off the field as on it.”
Hickey believes he is a better all-round player, having immersed himself in European rugby, playing in three distinct competitions in a wide range of weather, stadia, and opposition. There was a perception, perhaps slightly unfair, that he was a sharpshooter off the tee who could not always set his outsides alight. His Edinburgh deal ends in June 2020. After that, who knows?
“If someone had told me a few years ago that I would play two a half years in France and now in Scotland, I wouldn’t have thought that would be the case.
“But it happened and I’m glad it happened. I’ve learned not to plan too far ahead. I’ll see where I stand in a year or so’s time, and then I might find the fire still burns to have a crack back home in New Zealand.”
For now, the focus is on Scarlets, who come to Murrayfield on Friday night. Hickey will relish catching up with his first Auckland coach, Wayne Pivac, now at the helm of Scarlets, and Wales from November 2019. That will be after Hickey has worked out how to stop Johnny McNicholl and Kieron Fonotia.
All in a day’s work for this Kiwi in Europe.
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