Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Hammett fires a shot on his way out

Coach Mark Hammett's side have lost eight games this year and six of them were by nine points or less. Photo / Getty Images
Coach Mark Hammett's side have lost eight games this year and six of them were by nine points or less. Photo / Getty Images

Mark Hammett says the Hurricanes were in a state of disarray when he took over the coaching reins ahead of the 2011 season.

Hammett, who is heading overseas to coach Welsh club Cardiff, is in the final stages of his four-year tenure with the Hurricanes after they were left in seventh place, one point outside of the playoffs, following the final round of Super Rugby.

Seventh was the best finish Hammett led the side to during his time in charge but his first season was a rescue mission as he moved on some senior players, including Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu as Hammett deemed they weren't helpful for the team environment.

Given he was a former Crusaders assistant coach and player, Hammett, who took over from Colin Cooper, copped much public vitriol as many believed he was trying to replicate that team in Wellington.

Other senior Hurricanes then jumped off what looked like a sinking ship ahead of the 2012 campaign as they stumbled to ninth place in 2011.

"I'm really proud of a lot of the stuff we've achieved," Hammett said of his time in the capital. "When I came here it was a real mess; I was disappointed actually when I came in here to see the work that had to be done. People ask me all the time: 'Do you have regrets around that first year and how it was handled?'. I regret the state it was in.

"There was a lack of leadership, there was some character flaws and there were some really professional standards that were nowhere near [what they needed to be]."

Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith said he was aware there were some problems around team culture but until 2009 the Hurricanes were regularly in the playoffs before things started to head downhill in 2010 when they finished eighth.

"I was still just happy doing my own thing within the Hurricanes environment and then playing for the All Blacks," Smith said. "I was happy with how rugby was for me but certainly I could see that there were some big shifts that had to happen if we were to win a championship.

"I love the team and I probably didn't realise how big a step it would have been to challenge all that was existing and make those changes."

Hammett made those changes much to the frustration of many and while the results didn't always much up with his vision - they finished eighth in 2012 and 11th last year - the environment at the Hurricanes is now far more inclusive.

"I was 100 per cent committed to the Hurricanes over the four years and the people here," Hammett said. "So sometimes people get a bit caught up in that they think you're red and black; and you're not. Your heart's fully with your crew and your team."

Hammett said he was grateful to hear the kind words of Smith who spoke on behalf of the team at the franchise's end of season dinner last week and Smith said Hammett's true character had shone through during his time in charge.

"It was nice to hear how that group feels," Hammett said.

Hammett was never able to play overseas after a neck injury cut his career short and he didn't rule out a return to Super Rugby coaching in the future.

"I like my style but every head coach is different. You can't go and have one style. I put my team first and I always believe that's how it should be but you do have to treat everyone differently and I care for my players hugely."

Nonu seems set for a return to the Hurricanes next season and Hammett said he hoped the renewed partnership between the All Blacks second-five and the Hurricanes was successful.

- APNZ

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