Report: Blues and Hurricanes set to exchange ex-All Blacks prospects for 2022 Super Rugby season
A report on Twitter have emerged linking departing Blues flanker Blake Gibson with the Hurricanes, while the Wellington-based franchise are expected to lose third-string hooker Ricky Riccitelli to Auckland.
The trade-off comes two days after Blues head coach Leon MacDonald and chief executive Andrew Hore confirmed after their 23-15 Trans-Tasman final win over the Highlanders that Gibson is among four players set to depart the franchise.
Capping off his time with the Blues in style, Gibson came off the bench to score the decisive try three minutes from full-time in what was his final appearance for the franchise.
A long-serving veteran for the Blues, the 26-year-old made his debut for the side in just his second year out of school in 2015 and has since established himself as a leading figure at the team’s Epsom-based headquarters.
With more than 50 Super Rugby appearances to his name, Gibson’s influence on the franchise was reflected by his appointment as co-captain alongside current skipper Patrick Tuipulotu for the 2019 season.
A tough run of injuries in recent seasons has not only prevented him from getting back into the All Blacks camp since then, but it has also contributed to him losing his starting role with the Blues.
The emergence of Dalton Papalii and recruitment of Dillon Hunt has left Gibson on the outer at Eden Park, and while the injured Hunt didn’t take to the field at all for the Blues this year, his presence means Gibson’s playing time has become dependant on injuries.
It’s unsurprising, then, to see Gibson depart the Blues in a bid to revitalise his career, and a move to the Hurricanes may well do that.
The Wellingtonians have All Blacks star Ardie Savea and promising prospect Du’Plessis Kirifi as their key players in the loose forwards, while blindside flanker Reed Prinsep won Hurricanes Player of the Year at their annual awards ceremony last week.
However, given his pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gibson start for the Hurricanes, who finished last in Super Rugby Aotearoa and were one of only two Kiwi teams to lose to Australian opponents in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
Fresh after his side’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title-winning success, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald already has an eye on next year’s campaign with incoming NRL star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. #Blues #SuperRugby https://t.co/icI6F3GcJZ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 21, 2021
Depleted by Beauden Barrett’s defection to the Blues last year and TJ Perenara’s Japanese sabbatical this year, Jason Holland’s side were in the midst of a rebuilding period that saw them blood seven new players.
But, in addition to the reported recruitment of Gibson, the Hurricanes’ fortunes could turn next season thanks to the confirmed arrivals of ex-All Blacks pair Owen Franks and Dominic Bird, both of whom will bolster the side’s tight five, and the return of Perenara.
With youngsters such as Ruben Love and Cam Roigard garnering extensive experience on the park, and talented prospect Aidan Morgan joining the squad next season, all signs point to a prosperous season at Sky Stadium next year.
Riccitelli seemingly won’t be part of that campaign, though, as the 26-year-old is set to move north to join the Blues as they look to secure back-to-back titles for the first time since 1997.
Similarly to Gibson, Riccitelli has become a veteran of the Hurricanes since making his debut for the franchise as an injury cover player during their maiden championship-winning season in 2016.
Since then, the South African-born rake has played more than 50 times for the Hurricanes as he impressed with his energy and robustness in general play.
Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon didn’t mince his words when explaining why his side went into Saturday’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final as firm underdogs against the Blues. #SuperRugbyTT #Blues #BLUvHIG https://t.co/QPLivAbncK
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 21, 2021
That was enough to earn him multiple call-ups to the All Blacks squad throughout 2017 and 2018, but the Taranaki rake never took to the field for New Zealand.
Instead, Riccitelli has found himself on the outer at the Hurricanes in recent years due to the franchise’s preference for All Blacks duo Dane Coles and Asafo Aumua.
A victim of strong squad depth rather than declining playing ability, Riccitelli was called on by ex-All Blacks and Blues hooker James Parsons to look elsewhere for opportunities on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod earlier this year as he was labelled “too good” to be a third-choice hooker.
According to these fresh reports, it appears Riccitelli has answered that call by swapping Wellington for Auckland, where he will compete for minutes with the likes of Kurt Eklund, Ray Niuia and Soane Vikena.
Unlike the Hurricanes, the Blues have no All Blacks hookers in their ranks, which would give Riccitelli a better chance at re-establishing himself at Super Rugby level.
Before then, though, both Gibson and Riccitelli have to get through the upcoming NPC season with Auckland and Taranaki, respectively.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now