Coach: Mark Hammett
Previous Wins: Never Won.
Last Season: 9th
Last season the Hurricanes got off to a bad start and never really recovered. They narrowly lost their first game to the Highlanders, their next game against the Crusaders was cancelled due to the terrible Christchurch earthquake, they then had their bye week. They seemed to have their season back on track after beating the Chiefs in week 4, but then went on a 4 game winless streak. There was almost a mini revival in the middle of the season but an appalling away record cost them, winning just 1 game out of their 7 games away from the Cake-tin.
It’s been a rough few months for the Wellington men, after a mass exodus of quality All Black stars. No less than 5 All Blacks have left in the off-season, Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu left for the Blues, Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear went to the Highlanders and young outside Aaron Cruden went to the Chiefs. This is something that any of the Super 15 teams would find difficult to deal with, but the Hurricanes have been attempting to put a positive twist on this predicament they find themselves in, with chairman Paul Collins saying: “If you go through and look at the players the Hurricanes have contracted, we will have a competitive team going forward. It's not about one year, it's about two, three, four and five years.”
My problem with this statement is that if they are building for they future, they should have done everything they could to keep a promising young fly half in Aaron Cruden; however I do appreciate that it’s difficult for a new coach and chief executive to come to a club and convince the big players that they should stay.
So what have the Canes’ done about all these players walking out? Midfielders Tusi Pisi and Tim Bateman are returning to NZ from Japan and have chosen the Hurricanes as their franchise. They are not going to be short of young talent next season either after selecting 3 of the 2011 Junior World Championship winning squad in the shape of Beauden Barrett, exciting outside half TJ Perenara and Brad Shields.
I do bring some good news for Hurricanes fans; it was revealed in September that they have All Black try machine Cory Jane for another season. There was much speculation that he would follow fellow All Blacks through the exit door in Wellington, but this is not the case.
It’s difficult to be optimistic about the season ahead for the Hurricanes but here’s the bright side. All of their outside backs have at least a season’s worth of appearances in Super rugby, so at least the young newcomers in the backline will have experience around them. The return of Tim Bateman - who has 35 Super Rugby appearances – along with Conrad Smith means they will have a very experienced midfield partnership. So I’d expect to see them solid in midfield, which could provide some sort of a platform from which to work. Also the retention of Cory Jane was big for them because they still have a prolific, experienced try scorer.
Victor Vito is going to be a big player for these boys next year. He is the third and final All Black in the team and is going to need to front up and really lead by example in the forwards in 2012. He is surrounded by experience in the back row, but no real quality, so it’s important he performs big to give the Hurricanes a chance.
I think it’s pretty obvious why the Hurricanes might struggle next year. They have only 3 All Blacks in their team; far less than any of the other NZ teams in Super Rugby. They don’t have any noteworthy quality in the front five, but I suppose other than Hore, they didn’t have any last year. But this year I cant see anybody to carry the front five, I think they are going to struggle to provide any sort of platform for the rest of the team to build on. Whilst I think it’s great that they have signed a few talented youngsters, they clearly lack experience. It just seems like the Hurricanes have taken a few steps backwards from last year – however I would gladly be proved wrong.
The big player next year for the Hurricanes will definitely be Conrad Smith. The All Black has massed 66 appearances in Super Rugby and even though he’s only scored 9 tries, that isn’t what counts in 2012. Just by simply being there for the team Smith is going to be massive, surrounded by relative inexperience and youngsters he needs to shine – the 2012 captain quite simply has to step up. What is more impressive is that he has scored 21 tries in 55 caps for the AB’s, proving that he can perform under pressure.
The Hurricanes have two away fixtures against the Blues and the Chiefs respectively, with a home game against the Crusaders wedged in between. I wouldn’t expect to see too much of Cory Jane; I think we’ll see leaders Conrad Smith and Victor Vito because they form part of the spine of the team. Also I think it’s important that new arrival Tim Bateman forms a solid partnership with Smith because if they are to have much chance in 2012 the midfield needs to be solid.
In their first Super Rugby game of 2012 they face a very tricky encounter with last seasons beaten semi-finalists the Stormers in Cape Town. The Stormers possess international quality in abundance. I really don’t expect the Canes’ to get anything out of their game in South Africa and unfortunately I expect this to set the tone for the rest of the year.
So that’s the New Zealand teams covered, I’ll be working on the Australian teams next, expect them to start appearing in about a weeks time.