He was one of Richard Cockerill’s first signings, and early indications suggest that the little fly-half from New Zealand may prove to be one of the coach’s most astute moves.
Simon Hickey captained the 2014 New Zealand U20 team that included three All Blacks: Richie Mo’unga, who has just helped the Crusaders to the Super Rugby title, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown. How the heck did Hickey make selection?
“Ahhh, the coaches stuffed up that one,” he says good-naturedly. “As always there is plenty of talent in the teams back home in NZ and it was cool to play alongside some of those boys.”
Before he put pen to paper Hickey talked to two people, one of them Edinburgh’s former Kiwi midfielder Phil Burleigh and the other was the gaffer.
“I spoke to Phil who is obviously no longer here now,” says the man who has at least partly replaced him. “The way he spoke, it was a club that had improved ever since he’s arrived and he really enjoyed living in the city.
“I didn’t have much of a perception of Edinburgh [rugby] myself, before speaking to those guys, it was more a perception of Scottish rugby which is obviously a team that has improved massively over the last five to ten years, competing in World Cups and the Six Nations. That and the prospect of coming to a place that was a bit more like home in terms of training.”
So what did Cockerill say to persuade the Kiwi to swap the Top 14 for the Pro14? “I had a good chat with him about what he is trying to achieve here,” replies Hickey. “He has big ambitions, and he saw me as a player that will hopefully slot into that mould of the game that he is trying to play.
“I hope that unfolds, I hope that I can repay the faith and play some good rugby for Edinburgh and have some success.”
The Kiwi is generous in his praise for his new colleagues in what could be an exciting Edinburgh back line, name-checking the likes of Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife and the newly re-signed centre Matt Scott, once a shoo-in for his country who has since slipped in the rankings.
The New Zealander has not a drop of Scottish blood in his body and he insists that qualifying for Scotland bore no part whatsoever in his decision to sign.
Hickey will do battle for the Edinburgh fly-half jersey with Argentinean Juan Pablo Socino and two South Africans, Jaco van der Walt and young academy prospect Jason Baggott, who has served his apprenticeship with Melrose. Teenage Rugby League convert Callum McClelland is the only “Scot” in sight. You have to wonder what has happened to the home-grown talent?
Hickey should get his chance at Edinburgh, which wasn’t always the case at his last club, Bordeaux, where he was second fiddle to Matthieu Jalibert, the youngster who started last season’s Six Nations campaign in French colours aged just 19. An injury to Hickey gave Jalibert a chance to shine for Bordeaux and, as the Kiwi states: “He came on and played extremely well and within about five games he’d gone from playing for Bordeaux to starting for France in the Six Nations.”
Hickey is a typical Kiwi ten in the sense that his first instinct is to run, but he says that playing a couple of seasons in France has taught him the importance of a kicking game, which will come in handy when the Scottish winter bites.
Edinburgh Rugby has undergone one of those makeovers or a rebranding, according to the suits that demand these things. They have new shirts, blue for home, white for away, although I wonder if anyone was brave enough to tell the Macron man at Friday’s public launch that the polo shirts with orange shoulders will sell better than either?
But the truth is that the important changes happened last season when Edinburgh shrugged off a decade of embarrassing underachievement to make the play-offs for the first time in their history.
The signing of one level-headed New Zealand fly-half is likely to make a bigger difference to Edinburgh’s fortunes than any amount of rebranding.