Mark Hammett deserves more time in Wellington
March 11, 2014
"Mark Hammett has the makings of a very good coach, he's got a good rugby brain," Craig Dowd says © Getty Images
Mark Hammett is under a heap of pressure. He's an outsider who has gone to a franchise, and you have to remember the Hurricanes are a franchise not a union; people in the capital also need to remember it's not Wellington, it's the Hurricanes.
He's tried to instil the successful Crusaders culture into the Hurricanes. But he's finding the Hurricanes are a unique beast in themselves and he's having some problems changing the mindset.
I know he is in his fourth year, but the defence, and the attack, of the Hurricanes at the weekend was lethargic. It was as if they had bricks on their feet. To me they looked confused. They looked like they weren't 100% sure how they were supposed to play the game because they didn't look to be playing as if their plan was second nature to them.
When you know your systems, and you know the way you play, then you just get up and do it. They looked like they were thinking before they did things. They had obviously been coached on how they wanted to play, but it is not yet second nature to them. When you are really confident, you are quick off the mark and you're urgent in everything you do; they didn't have that.
Clearly they are trying to operate within the systems the coaches are telling them, but the confidence is down so no-one wants to break out of protocol; in a lot of ways there's a lot to be said for throwing off the shackles and actually going out and playing. Sometimes you can over coach players and they look like they might be a little over-coached.
It's almost a case of where to now? Who would want to be a coach? It's a thankless task. I'm sure the effort and the intent is all there from the Hurricanes coaches, but it is nice to be able to draw on experience if it is there.
And that highlights one of the flaws I see in the New Zealand coaching model.
There has been a lot of comment that Hammett completely leap-frogged the ITM Cup, which I think is an important step in the New Zealand pathway to coaching. ITM Cup is where Super Rugby coaches should, technically, come from.
A lot of All Blacks go from being ex-players to assistant coaches and then from assistant coaches to head coaches at Super Rugby. I think that is what most of the ex-All Blacks have all done.
Why should the coaches bypass ITM Cup and be selected for Super Rugby? The players have to come through that way, why not the coaches? And the same applies to assistant coaches. There's always exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally I think they should do the sort of thing Tana Umaga has done.
Tana Umaga has cut his teeth in the ITM Cup with Counties Manukau © Getty Images
He's being seen as a potential Hurricanes coach by the critics. He's gone to the ITM Cup with Counties Manukau, he's lifted them up to become a competitive unit and his players have won the Ranfurly Shield for the union for their first time. He's come through a tough competition and I think it is the only way you can answer the critics who might question your lack of experience.
It is a fact that good coaches need time. You don't become a good coach the minute you hang your boots up and decide to pick up a clipboard. It takes time, and the first, second, third or fourth year you may not be the greatest coach; but the longer you are in the job, the better coach you are going to be.
Beauden Barrett illustrates the Hurricanes' current level of disappointment © Getty Images
It took Graham Henry a long time to get the All Blacks, but when he did get there he was buttoned up as a coach and probably brought a whole new level of professionalism to coaching. John Hart waited a long, long time before he got the top job, and there are other examples.
Dave Rennie has been coaching for a long time, and Colin Cooper is another. And the more they do it, the better they get.
I believe Mark Hammett has the makings of a very good coach. He's got a good rugby brain, and he's a likeable character inside that environment. The more he does, the better he will get. But to listen to the critics, they want to throw the baby out with the bath water when you decide on a coach too quickly.
It is interesting to hear the comments running around about how the New Zealand teams are playing. Much of the comment suggests they are not playing well.
For a starter, I think we as New Zealanders think we have a divine right that New Zealand teams should be winning. But it's not the All Blacks who are out there. They are franchise teams in a different environment in a different jersey, and it's called a Super competition for a reason: the opposition have all got a budget so they can each pick the best possible team to put out there at weekends.
It is still only the second week in March. It's early. Teams still haven't quite hit their straps or settled down. They're making silly mistakes, attempting silly passes and, in the case of the Blues, playing some dumb rugby by attempting to take the Bulls on in an arm wrestle at their home ground. You have to manipulate defences if you want to bring your dangerous backs, but they didn't.
Mark Hammett and the Hurricanes need more from Conrad Smith after his sabbatical © Getty Images
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