Mark "Hammer" Hammett has unfinished business in Wellington; the All Blacks website reports:
What a difference a year makes.Twelve months ago the Hurricanes were battling to recruit players. Now the revitalised franchise already has 19 players signed up for the 2013 Investec Super Rugby campaign with more expected to join them in the coming weeks.
The re-signing of coach Mark Hammett and his assistant Alama Ieremia should also be a mere formality given the huge improvements that have been made on and off field this year."I'm currently negotiating a contract. I want to be here," said Hammett. "I feel like we've got something started and I want to make sure that we finish it out and continue to move forward."
That feeling is shared by Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni, who backed Hammett and Ieremia to turn things around following the 2011 debacle.
"I'm really happy with the way the coaches have gone, both Mark and Alama and the rest of the support crew," said Te Puni.
"The step they have taken this year has been satisfying for them, the players and the fans.
"But we're already thinking about next year and frankly we are going to work even harder than we have this year."
That last statement is music to our ears. Success does not happen by accident; it's the product of hard work. We remember the story about South African golfer Gary Player, who after a round many years ago had a fan say to him "You were really lucky out there today Mr Player.". Player replied "Thank you. And do you know what; the harder I practice, the luckier I get.".
The Hurricanes have worked harder this year than probably in any of the preceding years of Super Rugby. And working hard together, and as a team has paid off; read on:
The dramatic change in culture, the entertaining brand of rugby and the improved results on the pitch have all made the Hurricanes a far more enticing prospect for potential players.
"I've got no doubt about that," said Hammett. "I know we've got several young players, and older players for that matter, who are saying 'hey it's hard work but it's fun at the same time because everyone is committed and everyone is equal.'
"That's created a good environment. A good culture isn't an easy one but it has a great mixture between fun and hard work."
This was a rebuilding year for the Hurricanes after the trauma of 2011. To finish eighth was on one hand disappointing, but on the other hand exciting. Hammett and his assistant coach Alama Ieremia have unearthed an abundance of young talent, which bodes well for 2013 and beyond as the website story confirms:
The 19 players already on board for next year include All Blacks Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea, plus veterans Tim Bateman and Ben May and rising stars Andre Taylor, Reggie Goodes, Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Brad Shields.
"That's a real positive sign of what's happened this year and there's an environment that people want to be involved in," added Hammett. "We're down the road quite a bit with several other players too."
They include TJ Perenara and Faifili Levave, while All Black loose forward Victor Vito is believed to be in negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Union so won't begin his talks until that contract has been finalised.
Since that story was published on Thursday, both Levave and Vito have resigned with the Hurricanes, so the nucleus of the 2012 side will return in 2013. That is testament to the culture that Hammett, team captain Conrad Smith and the support staff have created, and that the players have embraced. To see the joy on the players' faces when the winning try against the Chiefs was awarded last Friday night gave a clue to how tight this team has become.
With the season over and the playoffs missed by a solitary bonus point, the Hurricanes will doubtless rue missed opportunities at home against the Cheetahs and the Brumbies. However their finish to the season with wins over the top two New Zealand teams in the standings gave a glimpse as to what the Hurricanes might be capable of next year and beyond.