OPINION: So now the Hurricane era of the Hammer is over, what are we to make of it all?
Rightly or wrongly, the first thing rugby fans will remember about Mark Hammett's four-year tenure at the helm of the Hurricanes was his ejection of some of Wellington's favourite sons from the team because of what he perceived to be a culture problem.
It was a bold call at the time. That Hammett was prepared to make it won't surprise anybody who knows the man. And few would dispute he has not improved the off-field culture.
But ultimately, and if somewhat cruelly, the Hammett era at the Hurricanes will be judged to have come up short.
This Hurricanes outfit might have cleaned up its act in some areas but rugby success is measured on the field and by that measurement the Canes have been under-performers and this season a great disappointment for their fans.
Hammett might have fixed some problems but ultimately he failed to marry an on-field high performance culture to the changes he made elsewhere.
They came very, very close to making the play-offs. "Close but no cigar" no longer cuts it at this level, though. The Canes won eight and lost eight so it was a .500 season
Yet, on paper, the Hurricanes' roster matches the best line-ups in Super Rugby.
They had a strong front row including an All Blacks hooker, a dynamic loose forward trio, an All Blacks halfback, an outstanding and in-form All Blacks first-five and players wearing the No. 11, 13 and 14 jerseys who are outstanding veteran performers for our national team.
How many All Blacks do the Chiefs have? Look at their backline. Outside of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden, that's it. Yet the Chiefs have been far more dynamic than the Canes.
All the pieces of the puzzle were there for this Hurricanes team to make the play-offs yet they failed. If the players are being honest with themselves, they will agree.
Incoming coach Chris Boyd and his supporting coaching staff face a real challenge to find the answer to making this team tick because, as far as I'm concerned, they're run out of excuses. Boyd must find the secret to turning the Canes from also-rans to genuine contenders.
I'm inclined to be less harsh on the Blues who also saw their tenuous play-offs hopes squashed on Friday night.
Like the Canes, they haven't performed to the level they expected. But this is a Blues side with a difficult blend of high end experience and real youth.
You can talk all you like about the experience of Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Tom Donnelly and Jerome Kaino but then you add in the uncertainty and youth in the key playmaking roles of halfback and first-five.
We all know the Benji Marshall experiment was a failure and to finish the season with a No 10 who wasn't even drafted by any of the Kiwi franchises at the start of the year tells you their search for the right guy to drive this team around the park isn't over yet.
The 150-odd Super Rugby appearances the likes of Mealamu have can't make up for that inexperience in other areas.
John Kirwan is now under some pressure as he heads into his third season next year as head coach of this side.
It looks like he will need to find a competent replacement midfielder for Ma'a Nonu and capable assistant coaches as Graham Henry and Mick Byrne ride off into the sunset.
That won't be an easy task.
A final word on the Chiefs - a third successive title is not a bridge too far for this side, even if it is an enormous challenge that will probably require them to win twice in Australia.
When I look at the Chiefs, I see the Crusaders' mentality.
I see determination, willingness and a confidence in the way they play the game that they can beat anybody, anywhere. That is a confidence that hasn't necessarily been there all season. In fact, it disappeared when Cruden was injured.
People forget how long Cruden was out for (and now many injuries the defending champions have suffered this campaign).
The Chiefs were without their key playmaker for a big chunk of the season.
Now he is back and found his feet again, it is no surprise that the Chiefs have regained their mojo in terms of energy and determination.
Another title win is not a step too far.
And, after all, history is there to be made.
- Sunday Star Times
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