OPINION: Ooh, aah, Umaga. The folk on the terraces have spoken.
They want the return of Tana Umaga as coach of the Hurricanes. They want some character and swagger back in the side. They want passion. They want to live dangerously. And they want to be listened to.
Well, you can bet that the Hurricanes management is listening because the bottom line is, just that, the bottom line. The Hurricanes is a business. Fifty per cent is owned by Wellington RFU and 50 per cent is owned by various strong-minded investors. These are not the sort of people who will do a Martin Bosley and continue trading a model that is not bringing in enough punters.
Late afternoon on Saturday could well decide the future of Mark Hammett and I am not just talking about the result against the Cheetahs. How many of you are prepared to pay $40 for an average seat? How many of you are prepared to take a punt on the Hurricanes?
The attendance over the previous five matches has been dreadful, with only one fixture attracting more than 9000 people. The message from the paying customer is that they can't be bothered. They don't like kick-off time, they don't like the stadium, they don't rate their team. They would rather spend their money elsewhere.
The business of the Hurricanes is not doing well. Westpac Stadium debentures are back on the market as many expire at the end of the year and they are not exactly being snapped up.
Saturday's attendance for the Cheetahs will be a perfect comparison. The last time there was a 4.35pm kick off time on a Saturday was last season against the Kings, an average African side against a stuttering home team - 15,111 turned up for that game against the Kings. What about now?
When Paul Collins, Liz Dawson, Gareth Morgan and Brian Roche came in at the end of 2012, this is not the future that they had imagined. The NZRU also had a different vision. Steve Tew said of the new consortium: ''This move gives the game at the professional level a better chance to be run profitably, to build on its appeal to fans and to enhance its ability to feed a winning All Blacks team.''
And the verdict so far, Steve?
At the beginning of this season Hammett said: ''We're all on a zero respect bank balance and we want to start building.''
Judging from the comments of the fans, Hammett's respect balance is now seriously in the red. The performance of the Canes on Saturday night against the Brumbies was so bad that many fans are closing their accounts. These are questions they would like answered.
Why have the Canes lost 10 of their previous 11 matches, the solitary victory being a six-point home win over the Force? And when will someone be held responsible?
Why have the Canes conceded an average of 29 points over those 11 matches? The Chiefs have a brilliant defence coach. They have a head coach who delegates responsibility. Why does Hammett take on so many jobs himself when the evidence is that he needs help? Is this control freakery?
The defence against the Brumbies was farcical. The midfield didn't know who was picking up whom. When the Brumbies scored their second try just before halftime James Marshall, Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith were stacked up on the short side and there was not a single defender within 15 metres of the Brumbies openside wing. Why?
Cory Jane said: ''This year we're trying to pride ourselves on a bit of D.''
Hmm. You wonder what the D stands for. You can fill in the missing letters at home.
What was the game plan against the Brumbies?
The Canes' coaching staff spent $15,000 of your money this year on a Game Plan app that allows management and players to interact. Are there too many voices out there?
Why are potential All Blacks 9 and 10 playing as if they have hardly met? TJ Perenara's passing was appalling on Saturday, a flaw that keeps returning to his game. Barrett kept kicking away ball that he should have been running. Yes, the first-five doesn't want to be predictable, and he was able to cut the Brumbies up twice, but some of the kicking was hopeless. Where was the onfield leadership from the key decision making positions?
Why do good players keep dropping the ball? The Hurricanes did it against the Stormers, and the damp conditions were blamed. What was the excuse against the Brumbies?
Why is the Hurricanes squad so thin? You look at the Chiefs and time and time again they bring in players who do a fine job. Poor Cardiff Vaega was way out of his depth on Saturday. He was too slow and his defensive reading of the game made him look even slower.
So where was Charlie Ngatai when the Canes needed him? Oh, gone to the Chiefs. Like Aaron Cruden. Could John Plumtree have been persuaded back to shore up the coaching? No, he joined Joe Schmidt in Ireland. Why is the Canes' recruitment so below par with such a fertile catchment area?
Unfortunately, there are a lot more questions than answers at the moment. The only definite answer is from the fans who don't like what they are seeing. They want Umaga, a guy with mana, a guy who has coached overseas, a guy who has had success with Counties Manukau, a guy whose teams play with style, a guy who goes all round New Zealand asking questions and learning off experienced coaches.
Can you imagine if Wayne Smith could be tempted to Wellington as Umaga's coaching aide and mentor?
What NZ rugby job would you give Robbie Deans?Related story: (See story)