When Simon Hickey joined Edinburgh in the summer of 2018, the former New Zealand Under-20s international was widely seen as the team’s new first-choice stand-off.
Sure enough, that is how he began the campaign, but he was soon supplanted by Jaco van der Walt, whose kicking game appeared to be a more comfortable fit with the forward-based formula favoured by Richard Cockerill.
This season, though, the head coach has adopted a more adventurous approach which gives the backs far more scope to spread the ball wide, and Hickey believes that style plays to his own strengths. So far the 25-year-old has only started one game to Van der Walt’s three, but the game in question was last week’s 46-7 win over the Scarlets, a performance in which the backs’ dominance can have done his cause no harm.
“The wider style of play suits me,” Hickey explains. “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.
“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. 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.”
Hickey was not the only one to lose his place in the team last season – Mark Bennett and Matt Scott, partly because of injuries, went from being first-choice centres to understudying Chris Dean and James Johnstone.
Now, though, Bennett and Scott are beginning to rediscover their best form of old while, on the wings, the increasingly confident Duhan van der Merwe has been joined by Eroni Sau, the Fijian who marked his debut last week with a try and an impressively robust performance in defence.
With that back line fit and in form, they can be a match for anyone in the Pro14 – although Hickey insists that no-one is getting ahead of themselves, and that they expect a tough game this Saturday against Benetton in Treviso. The Italians lost their first three matches before beating the Southern Kings last week, and the man from Auckland is aware that they may have found their feet after that shaky start.
“It’s a tough place to go and play,” he adds. “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.”