Hurricanes rally around embattled head coach

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 17/03/2014
Conrad Smith and Mark Hammett
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ

RELIEF: Mark Hammett's detractors are likely to ease off somewhat following the Hurricanes blowout win over the Cheetahs.

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Mark Hammet might be uncomfortable with the notion, but he provided the rallying point from which the Hurricanes began to resurrect their season.

After eight days of intense scrutiny, the Hurricanes finally unlocked some of their potential and passion during a 60-27 win over the Cheetahs.

Nobody would have sighed more deeply than Hammett, a coach under siege.

He wouldn't have been human if he hadn't at least felt a twinge from the barbs. He looked a shattered man in the wake of last week's 29-21 loss to the Brumbies.

Suddenly everyone had a view.

Selection, game plan, team culture, preparation, marketing, social media policies and crowds were all put under the microscope.

There were calls for Hammett's head, assistant Alama Ieremia and franchise chief executive James Te Puni too.

The players heard the criticism too. They felt for their coach and it hardened their resolve. With jobs on the line, the Hurricanes played with the accuracy and urgency missing over the opening three weeks.

A collective decision was made to keep ball in hand, to play like there was no tomorrow, to attack with the intention to score tries rather than simply to set up a another phase.

The critics will ease off this week. The pressure gauge will drop, but only slightly.

"Leading in to today we'd put up two really good performances in Africa against two really strong South African sides and all of a sudden we had a bad one last week [against the Brumbies] and it was like the blimmin sky had fallen in," a visibly relieved Hammett said on Saturday.

Over the top or not, one hopes he didn't miss the point fans were desperately trying to make.

The loss to the Brumbies was the eighth loss on the trot rather than a blip on a healthy radar.

The anger was not just at the results, but the nature of the opening three matches of the season.

Most agreed the style of play was not suiting the natural talents of a team blessed with athletes, but seemingly intent on kicking possession away.

Against the Cheetahs the Hurricanes channelled their emotions. They played for captain Conrad Smith's 100th match and to keep the wolves from their coaches' doors. If that's their cause then the job is far from done, but at least it is under way.

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- The Dominion Post

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