Each day this week nzherald.co.nz marks the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises following the Super 15 season. Today: Daniel Richardson grades the Hurricanes.
Season:(6-10), 4th in the New Zealand Conference and 11th overall.
1. Best result:
39-34 v Cheetahs, Bloemfontein, week 13.
The Hurricanes probably played better in losing efforts against the Chiefs and Crusaders at the back end of the season but beating a playoff team at their house has to rank as your best result. It was an impressive bounce back win from the Hurricanes who had been humbled 48-14 the week before by the Bulls. Their victory over the Cheetahs highlighted how exciting the Hurricanes are with ball in hand and showed the character of the group, while Jeremy Thrush had another standout game in his break-
2. Worst result:
44-49 v Highlanders, Wellington, week 19.
The 48-14 hammering the Hurricanes copped against the Bulls in Pretoria was terrible but better teams have been dismantled at Loftus Versfeld before. The fact the Hurricanes coughed up 49 points against the Highlanders was awful in itself, but to do it on your home track around the time first-five Beauden Barrett was known to be mulling whether to stay with the franchise for next season was poorly timed. The game was certainly entertaining for the neutral but it represented everything wrong with the Hurricanes' season: Missed tackles, poor option-taking and a lack of general cohesion.
3. Best player:
Blindside flanker Brad Shields was immense for the Hurricanes throughout the competition and showed what he can do when he stays out of the doctor's office. He's a future All Black and adds genuine steel to the No 6 jersey. He's only in his early 20s so time is on his side and he will be better for the experience of playing a full campaign this year. Honorable mentions to Alapati Leiua, Ben Franks, Thrush and Conrad Smith who were all notably consistent throughout the season.
4. Biggest flop:
This dead horse has been well and truly flogged but moving Barrett to fullback for two games during the season defied all shreds of common sense. The change unsettled Barrett and Tusi Pisi couldn't steady the ship for the Hurricanes as they suffered a 28-6 loss to the Blues at Eden Park in round nine and Mark Hammett watched his side's season crumble in front of him from there on out. Honorable flop mentions go to Karl Lowe, Tim Bateman and the game plan the Hurricanes attempted to implement against the Bulls in Pretoria. Trying to run it from all corners against a champion side like the Bulls is gutsy but simply not a realistic approach, particularly when you can carve off so many metres via the boot due to being so far above sea level.
5. 2014 prospects:
It all hinges on the signature of Barrett. If the Taranaki lad chooses to head north to the Blues - which seems unlikely - the Hurricanes will officially be in crisis mode without a recognised pivot for next season. But, if Barrett comes back to the capital there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Hurricanes next year; they have a young squad with a vast amount of players under 25 - some of whom are set to break out in a big way such as Ardie Savea, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Reggie Goodes and Matt Proctor.