Former Blues hooker James Parsons has called on third-choice Hurricanes rake Ricky Riccitelli to move away from the Wellington franchise to help revive his All Blacks aspirations.
Riccitelli was a standout for the Hurricanes in their 35-29 defeat to the Chiefs at Sky Stadium on Saturday after he was handed a rare starting opportunity following the injury-enforced absences of All Blacks pair Dane Coles and Asafo Aumua.
The 26-year-old was a constant threat with ball in hand for the home side as he scored a try, made two clean break and ran for 48 metres, the most of any forward in the latest round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Riccitelli also posted an impressive 12 tackles and was faultless with his lineout throwing in an effort that evoked memories of his stellar performances in the early stages of his Hurricanes career that led to multiple call-ups to the All Blacks in 2017 and 2018.
The South African-born No 2 was never needed by the national side in any tests, though, and he has since had his playing time at the Hurricanes slashed as a result of the involvement of Coles and Aumua in recent seasons.
In fact, Saturday’s match was the first time Riccitelli had started for the Hurricanes, who he debuted for as an injury replacement player in 2016, since their season-opening defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town last February.
That spurred Parsons to urge Riccitelli to survey his options at Super Rugby level and look for a potential move to another New Zealand franchise in the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“You forget, like he had about two years where he went really well – I think Colesy was injured and Asafo Aumua was finding his feet – and he played, I think, two years straight for the Canes and ended up touring with the All Blacks,” Parsons said.
“He didn’t play [for the All Blacks], but [he was] playing really good code back-to-back-to-back, and then he’s just fallen away as that third-string for the Canes.
“I was really happy to see him just remind people, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m chipping away’, and it doesn’t seem like he’s a guy who drags his lip.
“He’s just been training in the background, doing his hard graft and now he’s got his opportunity again. He’s always that guy, when he gets his opportunity, he delivers.”
Parsons conceded that Riccitelli had made a costly blunder during the Hurricanes’ 33-16 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch earlier this month as he overthrew a lineout deep inside his own half which led to a Codie Taylor try.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 23, 2021
However, Parsons told fellow panellist and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall that Riccitelli made amends for his mishap as that game wore on and that he deserves more minutes than he’s currently getting at the Hurricanes.
“I know against you guys [the Crusaders] he had his one hiccup with the overthrow, but after that actual overthrow, he still had a good game against you boys and he put on a big shift the other night,” Parsons said.
“I thought, for someone that hasn’t had a lot of minutes at Super Rugby level, to come back – he’s always fit, he’s always ready to go – and he just gave it a little shot across the bow, I reckon, just to say, ‘Hey, let’s just not forget about me, I’m still a good, quality rake’.
“I think, to the other four franchises, if I was looking around and you want to do a bit of recruiting, I think he’s off-contract at the end of this year, he’d be a hell of a pick-up. He’s too good to be sitting at third, for me.”
When asked which of the other four Kiwi franchises Riccitelli should join to rekindle his All Blacks prospects, Parsons pointed to his former side, the Blues.
The two-test All Black reasoned that Riccitelli would provide good competition with the franchise’s current crop of hookers and joked that he could move in with his former Hurricanes teammate Beauden Barrett, who signed with the Blues in 2019.
“He’d be a good fit. It’d be good competition for Kurty [Kurt Eklund] and Lu [Luteru Tolai], that’s up here. It’d be great.”
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Hall agreed with Parsons’ sentiments that Riccitelli was too good to be playing third-fiddle at the Hurricanes and added that the 2016 Super Rugby champion would provide any of the other New Zealand clubs with some good experience.
He’s played a lot of footy, so I think any time you can add depth, and especially if you’re talking around the Blues… He consistently plays well when he needs to,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“You’ve got Asafo there and Dane there, who’s obviously injured at the moment, but, for a guy who’s probably ranked third down there, you go to the Blues or another franchise, he’s a guy who’s proven, as well.
“He was in that All Blacks squad not too long ago, so it was just a gentle wee reminder that he’s still there.”
For Hurricanes fans eager to see Riccitelli stay on board with the franchise, there is a glimmer of hope as Coles, a franchise veteran of 13 seasons, indicated earlier this year that this may be his final campaign with the club as he closes in on retirement.
Should the 34-year-old decide to hang up his boots at the end of this season, Riccitelli may be persuaded to remain with the Hurricanes as a regular in Jason Holland’s match day squads over the coming years.
With Coles (calf) and Aumua (shoulder) continuing to work their way back from their respective injuries, Riccitelli is in line to feature for the Hurricanes again this Friday when they face the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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