Just over two months ago, the Hurricanes took a 42-14 hiding from the Crusaders at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Their season had started well, but threatened to unravel after that result.
But the 2012 version of the Hurricanes is made of stronger stuff. And they showed that last night with a gutsy win over the same team at AMI Stadium in Christchurch. Led by an inspirational Conrad Smith, they were beaten everywhere but on the scoreboard. But the delight on the faces as the final whistle sounded showed how far this team has come; Stuff reports:
Hurricanes' captain Conrad Smith overflowed with emotion as he watched Tyler Bleyendaal's last-minute penalty sail under the bar last night.Only then did the All Blacks centre revel in the glory."It was the realisation that we'd won. As close as it was, there's no way I was going ever going to relax. Seeing that kick go under, you try not to think about the enormity when you're playing because that's when you make mistakes. It was only then that it really sunk in," Smith enthused.The upset victory over the Crusaders, secured without injured All Blacks Cory Jane, Victor Vito and livewire halfback TJ Perenara, was the proudest moment of Smith's fledging captaincy tenure."Yeah, it probably would be," he said. "Even if they got that kick the headlines would have been a lot different but I would have still been really proud of the way we hung in there like we've done all season."It was a satisfying result for Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, who played 81 games for the Crusaders. His side now has the chance to make the playoffs."A finals spot is going to be up for grabs," Hammett said."It's going to be a massive night against the Chiefs and I imagine people will get out to watch it."
Unfortunately, we'll be in Auckland the weekend of the Hurricanes v Chiefs match. They have the bye next week with a guaranteed four competition points, and the final match of the season will be an all-or-nothing clash, as last night's match was. And with Jane and Vito likely to be available, you wouldn't bet against them.
We were at a business meeting a few weeks ago where one of the 'Canes' back-room staffers was a speaker.We heard how the team culture changed when Mark Hammett came on board last season. And those changes are paying off in spades in 2012.
Last year was an horrific one for the franchise, and their biggest regret is that the need for change wasn't well communicated. But it's showing now in their discipline, the on and off-field demeanour and unity and in their results. The fans are slowly returning, and we're picking that it'll be close to a full house in a fortnight's time when the Hurricanes' season goes on the line.