Pick'n Go
Cultured Hurricanes are all heart
Sam Bruce
March 30, 2015
Hurricanes 36-12 Rebels (Australia only)

The Hurricanes have always been a franchise rich on talent, a team capable of scoring points from anywhere on the field.

The sight of All Blacks fullback Christian Cullen roaming free in the early days at Athletic Park is not easily forgotten, and former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga picked up the torch at Westpac Stadium and carried the franchise through the early part of the new millennium. And who can forget the old rally call through the PA: "Hurricanes, Hurricanes; Hurricanes, Hurricanes."

But something was always awry. The team in yellow would consistently contribute to some of the best matches of the season only to turn in the kind of infuriating, hair-losing display that sends supporters to an early grave. They were the New Zealand equivalent of the pre-Michael Cheika Waratahs. They lacked heart, or as it's otherwise known on both sides of the Tasman - ticker. When the going got tough, the Hurricanes never got going.

But 2015 looks to be a different story.

Jason Woodward and the Hurricanes are flying high © Getty Images

Having already swept a three-week road trip to begin their season, the Chris Boyd edition of the Canes had shown enough to suggest that something had changed. After Friday night's comfortable win over the Rebels in Wellington, their first match at Westpac Stadium this season, there is no doubting the competition-leaders are a different beast.

Just a few seasons ago, the Hurricanes slipped to one of their worst ever defeats at the venue when they were beaten 47-38 loss to the lowly Cheetahs. It was the South Africans' first win on New Zealand soil, and a tough loss to bear for youngsters Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles and TJ Perenara.

Then coach Mark Hammett was feeling the heat having moved on veterans Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear and Andrew Hore. It was a decision made to improve the Hurricanes' culture; a tough call from a coach who never really found the favour of the franchise's faithful.

Fast forward three years and that culture change Hammett was seeking appears to be on show.

The Canes were largely in control of Friday night's clash with the Rebels, but there was still a point in the second half when the visitors threatened a comeback. The Melbourne side had retained possession well for much of the night and, after finally achieving some field position, they pressed the Hurricanes' line for 10 minutes.

The Hurricanes were not for breaching by the Rebels © Getty Images

The Rebels went hard for the corner, and the Hurricanes' line held; centre Mitch Inman powered over the top of the now-returned Nonu, and the cover defence arrived; and when Perenara was sin-binned, the Hurricanes rallied, forced a turnover, and then iced the victory with two tries inside the final three minutes. Young Nehe Milner-Skudder looks a player for the future, too.

It was the kind of defensive resilience previously seen only rarely in the New Zealand capital - the All Blacks aside, of course.

So who takes the credit and will it continue? The first part of that question isn't easily answered. Does Hammett deserve the plaudits following a four-year reign in which he was never the toast of the town? Is it the difficult lessons learned by Perenara and Barrett - the latter rested on Friday evening in another point worth mentioning - in their early years? Or is it perhaps that veterans like skipper Conrad Smith, lock Jeremy Thrush and a surprisingly focused Nonu simply got together and said, 'righto, lads, enough is enough'? Three different answers, each with their validity.

Can it continue? For the fans in Wellington, I certainly hope so. For having witnessed the joy of their formerly long-suffering Waratahs equivalents first-hand last season, it's certainly something the true-believers in Wellington deserve.

It's taken ticker to stick by the Canes for the past 20 years and, finally, it looks as though the team from the Kiwi capital may have just discovered some of that immeasurable inner-drive themselves.

Ma'a Nonu is finally showing his Test form at Super Rugby level © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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