Impossible-to-dislike franchise yet again in painful wait for others to decide their fate
It could only happen to the Hurricanes. The men of New Zealand's most frustratingly fragile franchise forced into the role of fundamentalist fans, sitting on their couches, hiding behind the cushions, or pacing their living rooms and biting their nails as they wait for the Chiefs and the Blues and, even more depressingly, the Force and the Brumbies, to decide their fate.
There's surely no other Kiwi team that could take its fans this far into a post-season push and leave them hanging at the last minute on an all-Australian affair. Only the Hurricanes are capable of concocting for themselves such a bitter brew, and only their fans could continue to sup from the Kool-Aid cup. In the crowded house of the playoffs, the Hurricanes are still singing Don't Dream It's Over. It breaks your heart.
This side is to Super Rugby what the Dutch are to football World Cups -- they really are the best team to have never won the title. They're the Hollandcanes. Of course, there's one crucial difference: the Hurricanes are likeable. That has to be why they get away with this every damn year. They're the Parker Pens of the competition; they always look good on paper.
Seriously, though, how could you not like the Canes? How could you not reserve in your sporting soul a place for this team? Watching the Hurricanes is the rugby equivalent of following Jennifer Anniston's love life: it's infinitely promising but ultimately destined for heartbreak. And despite the fact we all know this, despite the years of disappointment and desperate late season calculations, and the inevitable fluctuations in form, and results that yo-yo like a middle-aged waist size, we all keep coming back for more. Even Beauden Barrett is coming back for more. It could only happen to the Hurricanes.
And that says it all, doesn't it? Just when the Hurricanes are dipping into this season's well of hope for one last weekend, they're ready to talk about next season's oil strike. I'm all for it. "There's Always Next Year" has been the team slogan since 1996. Why change it now?
What a week they must have had, these Hurricanes: Training in the wind and the rain for a game that may never happen against an unknown opponent at an unknown venue on an unknown day, sometime next weekend.
It's hard to imagine the analysis room at Rugby League Park but picture, if you will, this scene:
"Coach, what are we looking at today?"
"I want you to look after the Brumbies scrum, the Highlanders lineout, the Chiefs' transition offence, and the Crusaders' kicking game. Meanwhile, you other guys focus on the Chiefs lineout, the Brumbies' halves combination, the Sharks' ball runners and the Crusaders' width attack, and while you're doing that I have some clips here of the Highlanders' breakdown, the Sharks' inability to score tries from inside their own half, the Chiefs' driving maul, and the Crusaders' obsession with Nemani Nadolo."
"Do you want us to look at the Waratahs coach?"
"Maybe next week."
Maybe, just maybe, it's not as crazy as it sounds. Maybe results will go their way after all. Maybe they'll sneak into the post-season on the fumes of an almost failed season.
Maybe the Chiefs have been saving their best until last and maybe the Force will fade without a point. Maybe the Blues can win without the bonus point and deny the Chiefs a single bonus point. All these things can happen. And besides, just the thought of big Jeremy Thrush hiding behind his sofa chewing on a pillow between furtive glances at his big-screen telly as it all unfolds makes me love the Hurricanes even more.
Then again, the Brumbies and the Force are just as likely to play out a 10-try draw, taking three points apiece after the Blues have somehow managed to put 50 on the Chiefs in a game played at the kind of pace that would kill a racehorse, leaving Conrad Smith to rue that loss at Eden Park even more than he did at the time and giving Mark Hammett critics a chance to claim they were right all along. Funnily enough, this could happen too. But it could only happen to the Hurricanes.