Ulster sucker punch won't knock Edinburgh's Simon Hickey off his stride
When Edinburgh stand-off Simon Hickey kicked a penalty with half a minute left to give his side a 29-27 lead at Ulster last Friday he could be forgiven for starting to envisage the 'matchwinner' headlines to cap what he says has been an enjoyable start to his life in Scotland.
Of course, fate intervened and Ulster were given a get-out-of-jail card which they took to win 30-29 and condemn Edinburgh to a second straight narrow away defeat at the start of the Guinness Pro14 campaign.
“Yeah, it was a shame,” said the Kiwi. “It is cool when you are a kicker and you practice day after day to be handed those pressure kicks like the one I was given at the end [to go ahead v Ulster 29-27] but I would rather have won.
“I think on the weekend against Ulster we played better than we did against the Ospreys and for us we can only focus on ourselves and our performance and things we can work on game management-wise – like holding onto leads – but I think we are tracking in the right direction and making good strides.”
The 24-year-old Aucklander arrived from Bordeaux-Begles in the summer and, while the fact Edinburgh are relying on southern hemisphere imports to fill the pivotal playmaker berth this season highlights what has been long identified as a weak spot in Scottish rugby, the early signs are that Hickey, who kicked 19 points in Belfast, looks like he could be a valuable addition to coach Richard Cockerill’s team.
South Africa-born Jaco van der Walt, who has expressed his desire to become Scotland qualified on the three-year residency rule which was still in play when he signed, is the other main stand-off after the departure of Duncan Weir to Worcester.
With Finn Russell now at Racing 92, the emergence at Scotstoun of Adam Hastings, who was man of the match against Munster last week, is a timely one but former New Zealand Under-20 international Hickey is focused on doing the best he can for his new club.
An alumni of the famous King’s College in New Zealand’s largest city, which also produced All Blacks like Ali Williams, Hickey played against some of his new team-mates, such as Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Lewis Carmichael, Cameron Fenton and Damien Hoyland, during the 2014 World Junior Championships, which the Baby Blacks finished in third place.
“I have really enjoyed my first three months in Edinburgh and the boys and the club have really made me feel welcome and it is nice to be into games now,” said the stand-off, who played provincially for Auckland and had a taste of Super Rugby with the Blues. He said he has already formed a good understanding with Scotland scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, who moved from Glasgow in the summer.
“I think we headed into the Ulster game with a really clear game plan and we executed that for the most part of the match,” said Hickey.
“I have really enjoyed playing with Henry these last couple of weeks, I think he is a really good player and he has a cool head on the field, but he is also gutsy enough to try things and quite a few pay off.”
Hickey believes the move to Scotland has brought a bit more familiarity to the three years he spent in Bordeaux.
“I have noticed coming here a really good work rate among the players, pre-season was tough and the boys just tucked into it which has put us in a good place heading into this season,” he said.
“I’d say the boys work harder in training than in France while being an English speaker here helps me a lot. I’d say there are a lot more similarities in the way we prepare for matches with back home in New Zealand.”
Hickey is now relishing the prospect of playing on the main pitch at BT Murrayfield for the first time when Connacht come calling on Friday evening. “Yeah I can’t wait,” he said. “I have had a chance to kick on there a couple of times, awesome stadium, probably the biggest stadium I’ll have ever played in along with Eden Park so I am really excited.”