Hurricanes won't change under Hammett
Don't try suggesting to Andrew Hore that the Hurricanes are about to reinvent themselves under their new coach and his intimate knowledge of all things Crusaders.
That's not how the All Blacks hooker and Hurricanes captain sees things at all as his side opens the new Super Rugby season on Friday night against the Highlanders at the Cake Tin.
Many have presumed that Mark Hammett, a Crusaders legend as a hooker and an assistant-coach with the Christchurch franchise for the previous four seasons, will bring a hefty red and black influence to his new role running the Canes.
And those same people wondered if it might not just be the missing ingredient the talented Hurricanes need to transform themselves from contenders into champions.
Six times in their history the Hurricanes have made Super Rugby's semifinals, and they've still yet to lift the silverware. Not quite perennial bridesmaids, but close enough.
And this may well be their last shot at it with the core group led by international stalwarts Hore, Rodney So'oialo, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and the injured Piri Weepu.
But from where Hore sits it's not anything Crusaders the Canes should embrace, it's their own distinct culture that needs to be taken to the next level.
"He's a Hurricane now and we don't really touch on the Crusaders side of things," said Hore of his new coach. "He one of us and we're all Hurricanes and don't really bother too much about them.
"It's just been good to have a fresh face, fresh ideas and getting out there with some game plans that hopefully will work."
Hore, though, made it clear that the time was long overdue for the Hurricanes to convert their talent into something more tangible in terms of success.
"We've been a pretty handy team on paper for a lot of years, but like anything in sport it's not paper that means anything. You've got to get out there and get as many of your big names as you can to drag the other guys up.
"There have been the odd times in people's eyes we've underperformed a bit with the side we've had, but that just shows the rugby competition we're in is not that easy.
"If we get a good culture going, which is what we've been working on the last few years with Coops, hopefully Hammer and us leaders can carry that on.
"The biggest thing is to get a culture that gets everyone excited about playing for the Hurricanes, and I suppose now with the way rugby's going get a few people back to the Cake Tin enjoying the team. We've got to get out in the public and show them we're Hurricanes, we're all one so come down and watch us play."
The hardy hooker does, however, see some spinoffs from having a former test hooker as his head coach.
"It's great for a hooker like myself having someone who played my position at the very highest level, and I think he can help with my leadership as well. He's got some good blokes around him and some good players coming through, so hopefully we can get Super Rugby started with a bit of a roar this year."
Hore admitted it was the Hurricanes' newer faces that had helped him get through a tough pre-season campaign as he looks to kick on from an injury-ravaged 2010.
"It makes it easy getting the old bones out there at training. Seeing some excited faces who are really stoked to be there reminds you what it's like to be a Hurricane and how much it means. We've got a pretty special region, and we're lucky enough to be representing them."
The new format this year hadn't sent Hore into too much contemplation, but he did acknowledge one important aspect of the revamp.
"I'm pretty old school, and it's one game at a time for me. It seems like you get two cracks at making the top six -- either by winning your conference, or as one of other next three top finishers.
"It's made it fairly hard for New Zealand sides having to play each other twice a year. That will be pretty tough on the bones, but hopefully it will create a bit more excitement around the country and get some people along to watch us."
The Canes get the chance to build that fan interest early when they host Jamie Joseph's new-look Highlanders in the competition opener. It's a match they should win. Especially if they really are intent on taking this thing to another level in the capital.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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