Blues prefer Simon Hickey to Benji Marshall
February 27, 2014
Simon Hickey shone for Auckland in the 2013 ITM Cup © Getty Images
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The Blues have opted for promising youngster Simon Hickey rather than Benji Marshall to fix their playmaking problems against the Crusaders on Friday.
The 20-year-old five-eighth will make his Super Rugby debut, replacing Chris Noakes, who was left out of the match squad in the wake of the opening loss to the Highlanders. Marshall was retained on the bench as an impact player, having trialled at five-eighth in the pre-season matches after his switch from the National Rugby League.
Sir John Kirwan compared Hickey with All Blacks pivot Aaron Cruden - they have both represented New Zealand at under-20 level - and Test great Grant Fox, saying Auckland's ITM Cup player of the year in 2013, a member of the Blues' wider training group, was ready for to step up.
"We just think that it's time to give him a chance and, if we want to create internal competition, we need to start that now," the Blues coach said. "He's had the same pathway as Cruden and he has the calmness of Foxy. He's a mature young man who's ready for the next step."
Inside centre Francis Saili's foot injury means 18-year-old Tevita Li comes in at right wing in a reshuffled backline, while Patrick Tuipulotu replaces Liaki Moli in the second-row and Sam Prattley replaces Ofa Tu'ungafasi at loose-head prop. Kirwan is optimistic that skipper Luke Braid will be fit to face the Crusaders after picing up an ankle injury in the defeat in Dunedin.
The bench features the inclusion of All Blacks front-rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock, who were rested against the Highlanders.
Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li; Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid (captain)/Brendon O'Connor, Steven Luatua; Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu; Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, O'Connor/Jordan Manihera, Bryn Hall, Benji Marshall, Pita Ahki.
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