By Lee Stace
WHO DO the Hurricanes think they are kidding when they say the beleaguered Wellington-based franchise won’t be a laughing stock next year?
Sorry, but that is exactly what the team has become after yet another high-profile player decided to take his talents elsewhere for the 2012 season.
Since Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu were given the ‘don’t come Monday’ by Mark Hammett following a messy relationship breakdown between senior players and the coach, things have spiralled out of control in the capital.
Aaron Cruden has decided to head to the Chiefs to team up with his long-time provincial mentor Dave Rennie and Piri Weepu confirmed last weekend he will join Nonu at the Blues next season.
Hosea Gear looks like he will head to the Edinburgh of the South and link with the Highlanders, who earlier this week signed Hore on a one-year deal, while Cory Jane is believed to be weighing up overseas offers.
Did I mention that Neemia Tialata, John Schwalger and Anthony Perenise announced mid-season that they had signed lucrative deals to play overseas?
So after inheriting a team with more talent than you can shake a stick at, Hammett now faces the possibility of fielding just one current All Black – Conrad Smith – and the weakest side since the Hurricanes kicked off the inaugural Super Rugby competition against the Blues in Palmerston North in 1996.
Whether you agree with his methods or not, Hammett is the boss and calls the shots. He decides who he wants on his roster and who he doesn’t.
However, it’s fair to say he has clearly underestimated the ripple effect following his shock decision to show long-serving veterans Hore and Nonu the door.
That ultimately played a part in Weepu’s decision to head north and was probably a factor in Cruden’s move as well.
It’s interesting to note that Weepu has only signed a one-year deal with the Blues. Maybe he is hoping Hammett will get turfed when 2012 runs its course.
Whatever the case, next year does not bode too well for the Hurricanes, who are likely to battle it out with the Melbourne Rebels and Lions to avoid the wooden spoon. Although 21 players have already been signed and there is plenty of excitement in the air, they are lacking crucial depth and experience at hooker, prop, halfback and first five to be serious title contenders.
I can already hear the laughter – and the man in the middle hasn’t even signalled the kickoff for the Super Rugby season yet!
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.