Simon Hickey hopes Edinburgh’s new style will be his key to No 10

Stand-off played second fiddle to Jaco van der Walt last season, but believes more expansive approach is suited to his natural game

Simon Hickey (with ball) in the middle of a throng of Edinburgh players congratulating Mike Willemse (No 2) on one of his tries against Scarlets. Image: ©INPHO/Craig Watson.

WHEN Simon Hickey moved from Bordeaux to join Edinburgh in the summer of 2018, the former New Zealand Under-20s international was expected by many observers to take undisputed ownership of the No 10 jersey. A pedigree that had seen him play for the Blues in Super Rugby and represent his native Auckland in the NPC, as well as winning those age-group caps, suggested his game would be too strong for his main rival for the stand-off berth, Jaco van der Walt. 

But things did not work out that way, and the playmaker from Auckland was more often an understudy to van der Walt than he was a starting stand-off last season (especially in the big games). The South African undeniably responded well to the competition from Hickey, and he also proved able to fit in well with what was invariably a forward-orientated game plan. This season, though, Edinburgh are playing a more expansive game, and Hickey believes that plays to his own strengths. So far he has only started one of the team’s four PRO14 outings, but that one just happened to be the 46-7 win over Scarlets last Saturday, by some way Edinburgh’s most impressive performance of the new campaign.

“Any player wants to play as much as they can,” Hickey said earlier this week. “I haven’t had as much game time as I’d have liked, so any time I do get the chance to play, I try to make the most of it because you never know when the next opportunity will come.

Dumfries Saints double-down on promotion push after cup exit

Typhoon tragedy gives Warriors winger DTH van der Merwe perspective

Edinburgh in no rush to bring big guns back into action

“The wider style of play suits me – it’s the way I grew up playing and the way I enjoy playing the most – an expansive, fast game where you play off your instincts. That’s my favourite type of game and when it unfolds that way, I certainly enjoy it.”

It certainly unfolded in enjoyable fashion against Scarlets, with winger Duhan van der Merwe scoring a hat-trick, hooker Mike Willemse claiming two tries, and Eroni Sau and Mark Bennett adding one each. Zebre were dispatched in a similarly emphatic manner in the team’s first home game, and the impressive thing in both cases was that the change in approach has not compromised the team’s traditional strengths up front. 

“We spoke about trying to be a bit more ambitious with our attack game this year and I think that’s shown in the first few weeks,” continued Hickey, who added three conversions and a penalty to those seven tries, while Van der Walt, who replaced him late in the game, chipped in with one conversion. “Especially against Scarlets and in the first game against Zebre, to put on quite a few points has been pleasing and shows that what we did in pre-season is working.

“Every team is confident in pre-season, everyone thinks they’re going to win the competition, but we certainly worked hard during our pre-season and the boys were confident that the work we’d done would stand us in good stead. We’ve started the season well and so we’ve just to look to build on that the next few weeks.

“We’ve got a strong back line: they’re keen to get their hands on the ball. Communication has been a big thing we’ve worked on from a 10s perspective: that makes it easier to get the ball in their hands.”

Edinburgh’s one big disappointment so far this season was the loss at Leinster – a substandard performance which, as assistant coach Duncan Hodge explained, was enough for Van der Walt to lose his place in the starting line-up. “Jaco did not, by his own admission, play quite as well the week before,” Hodge said. “And also he had played the first three games and we were keen to give Simon a run and he did really well.

It remains to be seen if Hickey holds on to his place in the starting line-up this Saturday, when Edinburgh visit Benetton – the team will be announced at noon on Friday. While the stand-off and his team-mates have won three of their four games to date, Benetton have lost three of theirs, and only won for the first time last weekend, when they defeated Southern Kings 36-30. But Treviso has rarely been an easy venue for Edinburgh, and Hickey is wary of a Benetton side who may just be playing themselves into some decent form.

“It’s a tough place to go and play,” he added. “They’ll probably get a few Italian internationals back so that’ll add to them. You look at last season, they made the play-offs, so they’re a good team  and we’ll have to be right on it to give ourselves a chance.”

Matt Scott hails ‘statement victory’ for expansive Edinburgh

About Stuart Bathgate 1393 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.