Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Rugby in capital needs an X-factor

Beauden Barrett's running was one of the few highlights for the Canes. Photo / Getty Images
Beauden Barrett's running was one of the few highlights for the Canes. Photo / Getty Images

On current form, the Hurricanes could ensure their season is over by round six. Not bad. It equals the efforts of the Highlanders last year, the Blues in 2012 and betters their own work in 2011 which saw them take until about round 10 before they were toast.

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Something has gone in the capital. The rugby they played on Friday night was almost without a redeeming feature. Maybe the running of Beauden Barrett, a handful of good scrums and the energy of Jack Lam, but the rest of it was limp. There was no dynamism, no cohesion and no chance of them winning. No chance of them persuading a paltry crowd to come back next week with their mates.

'Expect the unexpected' is the old Hurricanes slogan. Clearly the Wellington fan base have given up on that. They would love to be wildly entertained and hugely frustrated in the same breath. They would love to encounter a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous the way they used to.

At least back in the days of Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe and Rodney So'oialo the Hurricanes had vision. On Friday, it was hard to tell what the current side were trying to do; even harder to tell if the players knew what they were trying to do.

That's the worrying thing - the lack of clarity among the players. The midfield defence was a travesty and how any defensive system with Conrad Smith in it can be so ineffective is a second travesty.

The lineout was wildly inaccurate, mainly because Dane Coles had a horrid night. The forwards came second at the breakdown and the inches that have to be won were handed to the Brumbies. Effort and commitment were no problem. Their problem was accuracy, structure and unity.

"We let ourselves down with errors and unfortunately they stayed with us right through the game," said captain Conrad Smith. "At the start, that prevented us from scoring points and at the end, it meant we were leaking them. I feel we were trying too hard and I have been in this position before with teams and the harder you try the worse things get. I definitely think it was a case of that."

Coach Mark Hammett will come in for further examination in the coming weeks, given he is in his fourth year in charge, but Smith said his coach was aware of the external pressure.

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"He'd be the first to admit this is the environment we play in and we've got to live with that," Smith said. "But it's the whole team. I don't think it's a coaching thing at all and I don't think you'd find any of the players, even away from you guys [the media], that would say that that's the case. The one thing is, there's a long way to go and I know this team's better than we played, so we've got time to show that."

But this was the season the Hurricanes were meant to click, having spent two years rebuilding following Hammett's clear-out in 2011 when he showed All Blacks Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu the door.

Halfback TJ Perenara, one of the side's better performers during the opening three games, said they were desperate to turn it around: "When it's three games in with three losses, it's not ideal for any team but in reality it's not the end of the world. The boys have got to keep the belief within the team and get back in on Monday; we've got to prepare the way we've been because I think we've been doing a lot of things right."


- Additional reporting by Daniel Richardson

- Herald on Sunday

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