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Simon Hickey rearing for return to Super Rugby after 2021's false start

By Tom Vinicombe
Simon Hickey. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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While the absence of Richie Mo’unga may be a difficult challenge for the Crusaders to navigate in the opening rounds of the Super Rugby Pacific season, it does present an opportunity for the back-up first fives in the squad to earn some valuable minutes in the No 10 jersey.

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Mo’unga will miss the first three rounds of action, with the Crusaders are set to play the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika, and it’s likely one of Simon Hickey or Fergus Burke will take the reins in his absence – although David Havili could be a left-field selection to fill the void.

Burke is in his third year of Super Rugby now but has earned just one start in his career to date while Hickey returned from Europe early last season to link up with the Hurricanes after previously representing the Blues back in 2014 and 2015. Hickey never had the opportunity to take the field for his new side last year, however, after rupturing his ACL during the pre-season.

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But the recovery from that injury is well and truly done and dusted now and Hickey is confident that he’ll be at his full potential if given the opportunity to run out against his old side in the opening weekend of Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday.

“I’ve got full confidence in it now,” Hickey told media on Tuesday. “It’s my first long-term injury so it’s been a bit of a process and it did take a wee while to get that confidence back but I’m 12 months post-surgery now and really confident playing in the weekend against the Hurricanes in that last warm-up, I wasn’t thinking about [the knee] at all, just worried about playing footy. Hopefully, it all goes well but confidence is there.”

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While Hickey is the more senior of the two five-eighth options at coach Scott Robertson’s disposal, having earned 14 caps for the Blues as well as notching up almost 80 appearances for Edinburgh and Bordeaux Begles during his time overseas, Burke has slowly been groomed as a potential long-term successor to Mo’unga in the No 10 jersey. As such, either player is a reasonable candidate to fill in against the Hurricanes this week and the pair have been pushing themselves at training.

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“With Richie missing the first few weeks of competition there’s obviously an opportunity there for one of us to get a bit of game time,” Hickey acknowledged. “It’s been good competition, we’ve been helping each other, working together. I think it’s been a good pre-season for us both so hopefully both get an opportunity during the first weeks of competition and hopefully both go well.”

With the New Zealand sides basing themselves in Queenstown for the opening three rounds of the competition, Mo’unga hasn’t travelled with the team from Christchurch. He did, however, put in plenty of work with the Crusaders during the pre-season and was a valuable resource for his understudies.

“He was in at training,” said Hickey. “He was floating around for a couple of weeks before we shot down to Queenstown.

“It was good to pick his brain a wee bit. He’s obviously an outstanding player and I was lucky enough to play with Richie back in New Zealand Under 20s which was about eight years ago or something now. He’s been floating around and he’s been giving his bits of knowledge and things which has been real helpful for Ferg and I and just the team in general.”

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The Hurricanes have been the only side to best the Crusaders in Christchurch in recent times (and scored a narrow win in last weekend’s pre-season clash between the two sides) and while Saturday’s match is taking place outside of Crusaders territory, playing under the lights of Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin may feel slightly more homely for the South Islanders than their more northern opposition.

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Although Hickey did spend last season with the Hurricanes, even though he was sidelined through injury, the 28-year-old suggested that his intel likely wouldn’t help his new team significantly in Saturday’s match-up.

“It is a funny one. It was cool, I really enjoyed playing against them in the weekend,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few good friends in the Hurricanes team so it was cool to play against them and catch up.

“There’s still a few similarities in the way they play their game so picked up a few little bits but I think come Saturday night they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve, just as we will, so we’ll see how we go there.”

On a more personal note, Hickey will just be looking forward to getting back onto the pitch after his NZ return was undermined during last year’s pre-season.

“It does [feel like a long time between drinks],” he said. “I’m just so stoked to be back on the field playing footy again. It was a long year last year, obviously doing my knee and not playing. Just stoked to be back out, stoked that Razor and the Crusaders have the confidence in me to give me a shot to come down here and just happy playing rugby again.”

Saturday’s match between the Crusaders and Hurricanes kicks off at 7:05pm NZT.

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