Mark Hammett humble in Canes turnaround
Mark Hammett says he feels no vindication, just satisfaction after his Hurricanes recorded a memorable victory over the Chiefs at the Cake Tin on Friday night.
The last-gasp, and controversial, 28-25 victory was unlikely to have been enough to catapult the courageous Canes into a shock top-six finish – they needed either the Bulls or Sharks to tumble overnight against lightweight opposition – but it's nonetheless been a meritorious season in the capital.
Remember last year? The Canes won just five of 16 games and fell apart at the seams as senior players Andrew Hore, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu revolted under the new regime of coach Hammett. When all three later fled, and were joined by fellow All Blacks Hosea Gear and Aaron Cruden, few gave the embattled coach much chance of stitching together a competitive side.
But he did, and then some. The Canes' win on Friday night was their 10th of the season and throws Hammett firmly into the frame for the coaching job of the year.
Somehow "Hammer" found a way to turn his inexperienced and inconsistent squad into contenders, but he's not patting himself on the back.
"I'm not a vindictive person, and vindication is best left to vindictive people," Hammett told the Sunday Star-Times after Friday night's win.
"Of course there's an element of satisfaction. I knew what I wanted to develop here around leadership, culture and environment. I've been through a lot of campaigns with the Crusaders and All Blacks, and I've seen the good and I've seen the bad.
"I know this franchise just produces so much potential, and has done for some time. I just want this to be a place everyone's proud of and we're consistent. That doesn't mean we're not going to play with flair, and I think this year we've seen a number of styles and while we haven't always got it right, we haven't been far off."
The reality is Hammett has performed a rugby version of turning water into wine, and along the way has helped promote the likes of Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Andre Taylor, Dane Coles and Victor Vito into national team contenders.
"It was tough, after such a hard year and probably a thinner roster from an experience point of view, we knew we were going to have to dig deep," said Hammett.
"I need to put that down to Conrad [Smith] and the leadership group, and the guys bought into it.
"I've never worked with a team that's been so hard-working and such an easy group to manage."
- © Fairfax NZ News