The Blues’ chances of a season turnaround against the NSW Waratahs may depend largely on two lightly-framed Super Rugby rookie playmakers who expect to be targeted in defence.
With the failed Benji Marshall experiment consigned to the past and Chris Noakes injured, Simon Hickey will fill the five eighth role which has troubled the Blues all season against the Waratahs at Eden Park on Friday.
The 20-year-old’s back-up from the bench will be Ihaia West, who just joined the squad two weeks ago.
Hickey made a good impression after his debut earlier this season but was dropped for last weekend’s loss to the Hurricanes after being exposed several times by the hard running of Brumbies midfielder Pat McCabe three weeks ago.
Hickey, named captain of the New Zealand under-20 squad on Wednesday, says he learned plenty from the Brumbies game.
“We had different conditions to any other games I’ve played in and they targeted me. I’m expecting that again this week,” he said.
“I’ve just got to own the game and control how we play.”
West was a standout for Hawke’s Bay in the National Provincial Championship and it was a minor surprise when he didn’t land a Super Rugby contract, and he says he worked harder on his tackling as a result.
But his sharp acceleration can potentially give the Blues a running spark they’ve missed at five-eighth for some time.
“With Ma’a Nonu and Francis Saili and Charles Piutau out the back, a lot of backlines will be looking at them, so it could open up an opportunity for a 10 to run,” said West.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan says the game is a must-win for the team but that a victory would bring them back into calculations quickly given that they’re only nine points behind the conference-leading Chiefs.