Drums beat for Umaga as Hurricanes coach

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014
Tana Umaga
INSPIRATIONAL: Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga has worked his coaching magic with the Ranfurly Shield-holding Counties Manukau.

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Three successive losses - eight in a row dating back to last year - and at least three players set to leave the franchise. Already, the outlook for Mark Hammett and the Hurricanes seems bleak.

And if Hammett isn't already feeling the pressure in his fourth season in charge of New Zealand Super Rugby's great underachievers, the drums are beating for the Hurricanes' favourite son, former All Black captain Tana Umaga, to return as head coach in 2015.

Friday night's 29-21 loss to the Brumbies in Wellington was about as bad as it gets.

The Hurricanes were architects of their own demise. A lack of patience, direction, composure, more poor selection decisions and absent basic skills highlighted a team in seemingly serious strife.

Having declared for Samoa, dynamic utility Alapati Leiua and abrasive openside flanker Jack Lam, the Hurricanes' best performer this year, have confirmed moves to the northern hemisphere at the end of the season. The Sunday Star-Times can also reveal injured second five-eighth Tim Bateman, 26, is also close to signing with Japanese club West Red Sparks and while flanker Faifili Levave denied a similar shift he, too, is being strongly linked with a second stint in Japan.

"They're two outstanding players and we'll really miss them," Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni told the Star-Times in reference to Leiua and Lam. "There's nothing to confirm in terms of the other players. We are talking to Faifili about his future. There's a plan in terms of recruitment and players we want to retain. We're reasonably well advanced there."

Rumblings are also well underway to replace Hammett. In his fourth and final contracted year, the former Crusaders and All Blacks hooker, along with assistant Alama Ieremia, are under immense pressure to deliver. In his column in the Sunday News today, former All Black captain Taine Randell called for Umaga to return to the Hurricanes in a coaching capacity.

Te Puni didn't shy away from expectations of a first finals appearance from the current management team who have led the team to eighth, ninth and 11th

"As a minimum we want to make the playoffs," he said. "I know that's still the goal for the coaching team. We've had a tough run in South Africa, came up a heartbeat short against the Stormers. Tonight was a really disappointing performance. I'm sure the boys are hurting."

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Umaga and Wellington NPC coach Chris Boyd are the most obvious local contenders for any reshaped 2015 coaching team.

Pressed on whether the board remained confident in Hammett's abilities, Te Puni said: "That's the sort of thing you work through as the season progresses. It's not something we'd make any comment about now.

"The coaches and the players enjoy the support of the entire club. Our focus has to be on winning next week. We're 0-3. We'd prefer to be at the other end of the ledger. From a board and management perspective we expect them to turn it around.

"What might happen in terms of next year, quite frankly at this stage it's noise. We've got to get a win.

"Absolutely, it remains the goal to make post-season. That's still got to be the minimum benchmark."

Hammett's anguish was palpable post-match. "It's year after year isn't it? It's part of the job we do," he said of increasing criticism. "I'm extremely happy with where the boys are in their planning and preparation, but tonight wasn't good enough. Whatever was going on in terms of talk and communication, it was off. We need to get to the bottom of that. We've had a South African trip and played the finalists from last year. We need to keep things in perspective. We're certainly not out of it."

- Sunday Star Times

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