Hammett believes Hurricanes turned corner

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014
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Mark Hammett
CAMERON BURNELL/ Fairfax NZ
OPTIMISTIC: Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett believes this will be his team's year.

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The truth will set you free.

Mark Hammett has a touch of the evangelist as he talks about the Hurricanes in a crowded Wellington cafe. The man they call Hammer is excited.

He's convinced the Hurricanes have turned an important corner. He's convinced the culture he set out to reinvent in 2011 is about to blossom into one of ruthless high performance.

Hammett's a genuine bloke, knowledgeable, interesting, hard working.

It'd be nice to believe.

Except the Hurricanes' results don't stack up. Eighth, ninth, and 11th hasn't been good enough for a side that was a perennial playoff side before he took the reigns.

Their defence has not improved and selections have been puzzling. Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea seriously considered leaving and the fans have not exactly flocked to Westpac Stadium.

If 2014 proves to be another lemon there will be deafening calls for Hammett and his assistant Alama Ieremia to step aside.

That's the simple truth.

But it's not part of the preseason sermon. Hammett believes the revolution is nearly complete, that the Hurricanes are finally ready to be honest with each other.

''We need to get to a stage where we have the courage to say things as they are. Rugby players have physical courage coming out their backsides... but social courage? Most of the time we have a big cross as a team,'' he said.

''We think culture is about everyone liking everyone and getting on and we don't rock the boat too much. So what happens is we start walking past behaviours that aren't acceptable.

''The behaviours you walk past are the behaviours you accept.''

Hammett doesn't think that's been possible until now, but after three years with largely the same group he believes everyone is on the same page.

''Now we can have some honest feedback and people really understand what the group thinks, not the fluffy stuff, but the real stuff.

''I haven't given you the information to make you feel bad or upset you, its about us being a better team. Here's the information, now what are you prepared to 100 per cent commit to this year around that feedback to help us go better?''

Central to the Book of Hammett is understanding that not everybody in a 50-strong management and playing group has to get along like a house on fire.

''We've done a lot of work around respect versus like. So moving out of our preseason camp and into these early phases we've said we're all on a zero respect bank balance and we want to start building,'' he said.

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Where criticism was greeted with a dropped lip in 2011, Hammett hopes his players can now take it on board and commit to improvement.

''Talk is cheap... you can do that, but while we have made a good move to that performance culture, now we have to prove it, now we have to do it under adversity.''

It's hard not to be drawn in, to want to share in the vision for a high performance hub in Newtown that chugs out champions.

The Hurricanes have clearly made some major changes in the past three seasons.

''Some of the biggest things are ones the public don't see,'' Hammett said.

''Our weekly plan for example, what goes into that. These guys are 7.30am to 5pm now.''

Indeed, the franchise spent $15,000 this year on the Game Plan app that allows real time iPad interaction between every member of the squad and management.

Tailored video clips of training moves and opposition are at the players finger tips 24/7 along with coach and player feedback.

The Hurricanes have even taken part in a sleep study to aid in recovery.

Which all sounds great except the man in the stand doesn't really care about what goes on behind the scenes.

''The end game for the fans is win and that's fine. But I also think fans and rugby people can sense and know a side that's lying,'' Hammett said.

The former Crusaders and All Blacks hooker's definitely not that. Hammett gives as much as he asks.

There's no ultimatum from the Hurricanes board, no clause that says when his contract runs out at the end of the season, he'll be out the door unless his side reach the playoffs.

But he accepts that after three years he needs to deliver some concrete evidence that his methods are more than just window dressing and jargon.

''I'd be surprised if my drive and the team's drive isn't far greater than any fan or any board member. I don't say that negatively toward them, but that's how it is.

''I was re-contracted after 2012 for two years so at the end of this season I don't have a contract. It's the life of a coach. you can say it's a terrible pressure, but I say quite openly and honestly that if you can't handle that don't be in coaching. ''It doesn't mean it doesn't cause anxiety, but that's the reality of it. I know my standards, I know how hard I work, I know what I stand for and ultimately if something happened then there would be other opportunities. You just have to back yourself.''

Ain't that the truth.

- The Dominion Post

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