John Schwalger adamant Hammett's the man

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2014
John Schwalger
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
JOHN SCHWALGER: "I don't know why people are blaming the coaches."

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John Schwalger has been a Hurricane long enough to remember when making the Super Rugby playoffs was routine, rather than a pipedream.

They were runners-up his first year, semifinalists in two of the three seasons after that and always the team most likely to challenge the Crusaders for New Zealand franchise supremacy.

Now? Well, the Hurricanes might be the talk of the national rugby scene - just not for reasons that are especially flattering.

But if the sky's truly fallen in on the Hurricanes, no-one's told Schwalger.

If Mark Hammett's lost the dressing room and stifled the life out of their play, again, it's news to Schwalger.

It doesn't matter how many times you ask the questions or how many ways you try to rephrase them. The 30-year-old prop knows the team's 0-3 start to the competition isn't flash, but he remains adamant that this is the happiest, best prepared, hardest working Hurricanes team he's ever been part of.

They've just found a funny way to show it.

"I don't know why people are blaming the coaches, because they can only do so much. They're not the ones on the field," Schwalger said yesterday.

The people that are on the field keep doing dumb things. They push passes that aren't on, deviate from the game plan, spoil scoring hard-earned points by making an error from the kickoff.

Through it all, Hammett continues to walk in at half and fulltime and conduct himself with dignity and treat the players with respect. It's what they want from a coach and a far cry from what Schwalger said he experienced in his time with Agen in France.

"He'll come in with a calm face. That's credit to him. If It was me I'd be swearing hard out or trying to hit somebody," said Schwalger.

"Especially being away in France for two years, that's all they do. They head butt stuff. You come out of the changing room bleeding. Not because of what you do out on the field; it's what happened in the changing room.

"That's credit to him [Hammett] and the man he is. I said it before, I have all the faith in him and we just have to do it for him and everyone else."

Among the fan base, old wounds have been reopened by the start to this campaign and a run which, going back to last season, has seen the team lose eight games on the trot. Hammett's decision to jettison faithful servants, after his first season in 2011, is being talked about again, particularly in light of the results in the years since.

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Schwalger backed Hammett and his motives in 2011 and said the benefit of it is being felt within the group, if still yet to be displayed on the paddock.

"He's more comfortable now. Coming from the Crusaders and that background and coming into a different environment and trying to change it, in terms of getting everyone on the same page, I can see that's hard for a coach," he said.

"When I was away I kept in touch with him to see how he was and how the team was. After the first year I wanted to come back and he was honest with all that stuff. He's doing a good job, especially this year. If you saw all the stuff we're doing you wouldn't [criticise him]."

Schwalger acknowledges that the season must be turned around and quickly. He's sure that can happen and in the meantime he has a message.

"Unless you're in the coaching position and you know how hard it is, you won't understand. If you don't, just support him, have faith. The true supporters are those that have faith through thick and thin."

- The Dominion Post

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