Hammered coach bears brunt of parochialism

20:34, Mar 09 2014
Mark Hammet
UNDER FIRE: Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett is on thin ice with the Wellington rugby public.

Anti Mark Hammett fever has gripped the Capital.

Hammett's record deserves all the scrutiny it gets, but is the venom behind the criticism also about old-fashioned provincialism?

It's been impossible to escape the wave of negative reaction to the Hurricanes' listless 29-21 loss to the Brumbies on Friday night.

The Hurricanes have a solitary bonus point after losing to the Sharks, Stormers and Brumbies, and after three years of empty promises, the disappointment has overflowed.

Social media and talkback have been awash and many of the 8000 at the first home match of the season left saying they would not be back next weekend.

Just three weeks into the season the hysteria has even included a call for Hammett to be immediately replaced by Counties-Manukau coach Tana Umaga.

Hammett's results are not flash. In 50 matches his winning percentage is just 42 per cent with finishes of ninth, eighth and 11th. Another mid-table finish already seems likely in 2014.

Basic skills are lacking, the structured style of play is not easy on the eye, talented players appear to have lost their innate ability to play what's in front of them.

However, the level of anger among fans appears to run deeper than just the results.

In Auckland John Kirwan has been widely heralded as the prodigal son returning to kick start a new era of success at the Blues, and has already been handed a contract extension.

In three matches this season Kirwan's side has won one match. His overall winning record is 36 per cent since he took the job last year.

Yet the crowds are flocking to Eden Park and the side is seen as one packed with bright and exciting talent.

Down south, Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph's winning record in three years is identical to Hammett's with 50 matches, yielding a 42 per cent success rate even with a star studded lineup in 2013.

Yet after a win and a loss this year there is a feel-good factor around the southern franchise. Is it because Joseph bled for Otago as a player?

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has come under pressure too, but the former Canterbury lock has not felt the same stinging criticism as Hammett.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie's record is, of course, without reproach, but when Ian Foster had the reins the former Waikato first five-eighth got a relatively easy ride from fans and the media.

No such luck for Hammett, a southern man who turfed some of Wellington's favourite players in Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu and probably helped shunt Taranaki to the Chiefs by exiling Andrew Hore.

He has not helped himself since. X-factor local players such as Ardie Savea, Alapati Leiua and Andre Taylor languish in the reserves or can't make the squad, while little-known outsiders such as Adam Hill, Hadleigh Parkes and Cardiff Vaega make the starting XV.

In 2011 Aaron Cruden was benched for Dan Kirkpatrick, then headed to the Chiefs. Last year Tusi Pisi pushed Beauden Barrett out of first five-eighth.

Such decisions have alienated a fan base trying to channel their provincial links into Super Rugby.

And while Hammett may have changed the culture, he hasn't yet improved the results. The Hurricanes won 60 per cent of their regular season matches under previous coach Colin Cooper, who reached five playoffs in eight years at the helm.

It's not good enough considering the talent on the teamsheet, but a little perspective is needed after just three matches, two of which were in South Africa and one to last year's beaten finalists.

Beat the Cheetahs on Saturday, the Highlanders the following week, welcome back the injured trio of Victor Vito, Brad Shields and Tim Bateman and the worm could at least start to wriggle.

Of course, after watching the Hurricanes' latest effort that seems as unlikely as dyed-in-the-wool Wellingtonians accepting a Cantabrian in their midst.


The Dominion Post