Simon Hickey to start for Blues against Crusaders

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 14:34 26/02/2014
Simon Hickey
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RISING STAR: Auckland's Simon Hickey will start for the Blues against the Crusaders.

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After just 14 games for Auckland Simon Hickey has been entrusted with the Blues' troublesome first five-eighths role for Friday night's showdown with the Crusaders at Eden Park.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan appears to have immediately lost faith in Chris Noakes, who struggled in last week's 29-21 loss to the Highlanders and missed a crucial penalty at the death, which would have secured a bonus point.

Noakes is not injured. After also lacking control and failing to spark the Blues backline in round one he has been dropped entirely, with star recruit Benji Marshall charged with covering No 10 from the bench.

Making such a bold stand, Kirwan will now find it difficult to go back to Noakes.

With Counties Manukau playmaker Baden Kerr still nursing a hand injury and Marshall not ready to start in the 10 jersey, Hickey has been thrown in the deep end.

It's a big ask for the 20-year-old rookie, who has been selected from the wider training group to make his Super Rugby debut.

While he's got two NPC seasons behind him, starting such a pivotal game will test his mental - and at just 83kg - physical capabilities. He can expect Kieran Read and company to line up his channel.

Outside Hickey there is further patchwork. All Blacks second-five Francis Saili is out with a suspected stress fracture in his foot, forcing George Moala to move in off the wing to fill in at centre, alongside Jackson Willison in the midfield.

Wider squad member Tevita Li, who made his first appearance for the Blues as a schoolboy last year, comes on to the left wing.

The Blues also look like they will have the services of influential captain Luke Braid who appears to have recovered from his ankle injury from the Highlanders game. He has been bracketed with Brendon O'Connor at No 7 but it's hoped he will be able to take the field.

Returning test veterans Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock will both make their first appearances of the season off the bench, with James Parsons and Sam Prattley retaining their spots in the front row. 

There is also a change in the second row, with 1.98m rookie Patrick Tuipulotu rewarded for an eye-catching effort off the bench in Dunedin with his first Super Rugby start. Liaki Moli drops to the reserves.

All eyes, though, will be on Hickey. The talented youngster is the latest to hop on the Blues' No 10 merry-go-round.

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BLUES: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid/Brendon O'Connor, Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.  Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, O'Connor/Jordan Manihera, Bryn Hall, Benji Marshall, Pita Ahki.   

- Fairfax Media

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