Daniel Richardson: Hurricanes in better shape now

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Mark Hammett.
Mark Hammett.

Two words were all Mark Hammett needed.

Ever since he set foot in the Hurricanes' landscape, one thing has been clear; he thought this franchise needed a shake-up.

The Hurricanes have long been the entertainers of Super Rugby but they've also been the biggest underachievers in the competition's history since they were involved in the first game in 1996.

Coach after coach couldn't get them over the line and despite always having All Blacks littered through their roster, an unsuccessful trip to the final in 2006 remains their high point.

After Hammett's first season in the capital in 2011, he sent the supposed bad eggs packing and was vilified for it by a Wellington public desperate for a sporting champion.

The fallout was huge but a few years on, the Hurricanes are an outfit with a positive team culture.

Rookies are no longer intimidated into not speaking their minds for fear of being shot down by veteran players and, whether the results have shown it or not, the Hurricanes players would run through a brick wall for Hammett if they had to.

During a news conference yesterday where Hammett confirmed he wouldn't seek reappointment as coach of the Hurricanes at season's end, he was asked if he thought he had left the side in better shape than when he found it. The response was just two words: "Without doubt."

Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith is the franchise's longest-serving player, first pulling on the jersey in 2004.

"He's made some massive calls in his time and in terms of the work he's done around the culture of the place; I know for myself, I love the team, I always have, but I've particularly loved the last few years and the changes I've seen that he's brought about."

But that's where Hammett's departure has a sense of what-could-have-been about it.

The side have won their past two games, the culture in the squad is the best it has been and you wonder whether Hammett is getting out before the job is done.

After enduring three years of transition, the side is finally clicking and unless the Hurricanes can push on to an unlikely Super Rugby title this season, Hammett may have to watch someone else take advantage of the groundwork he has laid.

"The new coach will have an easy job," Smith said. "He won't have to change a lot. There will be a culture that's developed really well and wants to win championships for the club. So I think it's obviously a test now to find someone that fits that."

Hammett was clear in his decision that this year would be his last and had even punched his card before the season got under way.

"As a leader it's critical I set up my successor to succeed and we put a lot of work in to the club over the last three and a half years and will continue to do so," Hammett said.

The floorboards have been nailed down; somebody needs to build upwards for the Hurricanes.

- NZ Herald

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