Who will win the Super Rugby final?
OPINION: The Hurricanes biggest advancements this season under coach Mark Hammett did not come on the field.
What unfolded each week was compelling because it exceeded expectations rather than setting a new benchmark.
After axing Ma'a Nonu and Andrew Hore, then losing Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, and Hosea Gear a train smash loomed.
Instead, Hammett's young side won 10 matches, five more than the star-studded 2011 side, and scored a single-season franchise record of 58 tries in the process.
They played with huge heart, improved each week and un earthed some new stars, but eighth place in itself is nothing to write home about.
But this year was not about results. It was about change.
The Hurricanes franchise had, for various reasons, become stale, its culture flawed, and its fan-base, sponsors and stakeholders disillusioned.
Hammett's big calls made him public enemy No 1.
He must have felt like heading home to Christchurch, but instead he backed his instincts. He handed the captaincy to Conrad Smith, then with his management team set about rebuilding a culture that had lapsed.
It began at the pre-season camp where the players were split into four mini teams and told to come back the next day with a team song.
It proved a master stroke on which a new layer of pride in the franchise has been laid.
Two songs emerged and after a player vote two were emerged to the strumming of openside Karl Lowe's guitar. The side has not sung the song publicly, but it's lyrics provided context to the 16 years that had gone before.
The song was a first.
So was the pre-season meeting that saw partners called into the franchise and told to leave their men behind to babysit.
So were the Hurricanes honours boards erected in the team room and the formal welcomes afforded to past players like Christian Cullen and Bull Allen.
Hammett was dismayed that his assistant Alama Ieremia was the only past player to have been part of a Hurricanes' coaching team. He brought in Jon Preston. He told his players community work was a privilege not a chore.
As a coach he didn't get everything right. He erred in his selections against the Cheetahs, he could not fix the faltering scrum.
But he won respect and laid a foundation he did not have two years ago upon which he can now chase a title with the support of all concerned.
- © Fairfax NZ News