Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reviewing the Hammer era

The Mark "Hammer" Hammett era at the Hurricanes is over. The 'Canes failed by a single competition point to make the play-offs this year, giving Hammett the perfect record that no coach would want; four years, and four times missing the post-season.

Toby Robson from the Dom-Post takes a look at the Hammer Era. Under the headline Hammer failed to nail it at Hurricanes Robson opines:

Mark Hammett slipped at the start line and never fully recovered.
A pity because the man known as Hammer showed himself to be a good bloke, a hard worker who genuinely cared for his players and his team.
His coaching ability during his four years in charge was less certain.
Hammett will probably become a very good head coach if he isn't one already, but Hurricanes fans shouldn't have had to watch him perform his apprenticeship.
He will likely acknowledge in hindsight that he wasn't quite ready to leap from Crusaders assistant to Hurricanes head honcho in 2011.
A more experienced head coach may have handled the departures of then captain Andrew Hore and 100-game Hurricane Ma'a Nonu with a little more tact.
Hammett's principles and intentions might have been admirable, but the execution of such a big change was poor from all involved and it hung over his efforts for the next three years.
Fairly or not, those early events will be the historical reference point for a period that saw the Hurricanes finish ninth, eighth, 11th and seventh with a winning percentage of just 46 per cent.
The appointment of veteran coaches Chris Boyd and John Plumtree as Hammett's successors suggest lessons  have been learned.

Mark Hammett clearly felt under pressure to "sort out" perceived discipline issues in the Hurricanes in his first season. To a degree, that was one of his biggest successes, as the team was far more disciplined in the three seasons that followed. But the Hurricanes were simply not consistent enough, even if on their best days they were unbeatable.

Robson does have some kind things to say about Hammett though; read on:

Results aside, Hammett deserves credit for having the guts to take a punt and shift north to Wellington from Christchurch.
He had the fortitude to make some tough calls at a franchise that had slipped into bad habits.
Technically, his players have praised his abilities there is healthy buzz around the Newtown training base where hard work has never been hard to find.
But consistency of performance has not matched the talk or the talent.
Selections often frustrated and confused. Last season it was the promotion of Tusi Pisi ahead of Beauden Barrett at first five-eighth against the Blues, a year earlier the resting of key players during a home loss to the lowly Cheetahs.
This year it was the early season preference of the work-man-like Adam Hill over Faifili Levave and Ardie Savea at loose forward, the non-selection of Andre Taylor at fullback, then the use of Cardiff Vaega at second five-eighth against the Brumbies when Alapati Leiua was the obvious midfield choice.
Leiua's move to the midfield was a major success, but probably a season too late.
Late season injuries to Victor Vito, Levave, Taylor, Leiua and Conrad Smith hurt the Hurricanes as they lost to the Chiefs to come up one bonus point short of their first playoff berth since 2009. 

Mark Hammett's tenure as Hurricanes head coach may not have produced the on-field results that he, his players and the franchise's management wanted. But he leaves the Hurricanes in good hear, with a core of young players such as Julian and Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Dane Coles, Blade Thompson and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen. They will form the nucleus of Chris Boyd's first Hurricanes squad in 2015.

Hammett brought change to the Hurricanes, especially in the franchise's culture. For that, at least, he should be thanked. But professional sport is all about results on the field, and by any measure, Hammett's tenure has been a failure. We live in hope that Chris Boyd and John Plumtree can achieve success on the field, and that the Hurricanes may in fact break their Super Rugby duck in our lifetime, but we won't hold our breath. 

Nor however will we stop supporting them; after all, we've supported the New Zealand cricket team for more than 50 years!

1 comment:

Kane Bunce said...

There may be a lot to be desired result wise. but the franchise was in a worse spot results wise when he took over. They were even more inconsistent and lost more games. So while there is much to be desired, at least he improved on where the club was when he took over.

The players you mentioned is a part of it. And professional sports has shown many a time that great talents can be useless without good coaching so that they performed well under him says something good about his coaching.

Shaun Johnson is a classic example. He was great under Cleary and now McFadden but neither of the last two coaches could get much good out of him. He looked poor under them.