At various points this season, I’ve praised a few Super Rugby teams at length but the Hurricanes always got lost in the mix a little.
After all, the Lions played with so much vibrancy and showed the rest of South Africa what is possible. The Crusaders, having lost two legends of the game (and another great playmaker in Slade too boot), bouncing back with a punishing pack demolishing teams and providing the very best platform for their debutante playmaker. Then you have the Highlanders, with their explosive style and the many wiles of the Smiths. And finally, the terrific ensemble of the Chiefs, with their laundry list of unavailable players that they just kept overcoming again, and again, and again. Sure I might have gushed about the play of Ardie Savea, the potential of players like Fifita, the talent of youngsters like TTT (who I can’t wait to see next season!), and labelled Barrett as the most decisive player in the world, but as a team they haven’t quite had the credit they deserve.
With them sitting at the top of the tree again, it’s easy to forget the rocky start they had to the season – they lost the first two games including shipping 50 points to the Brumbies in the season opener. That, of course, came on the back of their heart-breaking loss to the Highlanders in the final last year, squandering the top seeding in the process.
It was easy to fall into the trap of thinking the Hurricanes were going to have a down year – after all, just look at the players they lost after last season. The two legendary centres that ended 2015 with 4 World Cup winner’s medals between them were huge losses obviously but their third choice Rey Lee-Lo left too. It doesn’t end there either: they lost another two All Blacks with Ben Franks and Jeremy Thrush leaving for Europe, and the emerging Sam McNicol defecting to the Chiefs. On top of that, they lost both backup scrum halves, had James Broadhurst – their standout lock in 2015 – out for the year with a concussion (get well soon James) and lost their 2015 breakout star, Milner-Skudder, for almost the entire season.
So to recap, they lost: a test front rower with 2 World Cup winner’s medals, both of their starting locks, an all-time great centre partnership and their first choice backup to it, both of their reserve scrum halves, an exciting back three prospect (damaging considering they’ve had one of the premier wings in the world severely out of form for a large part of the season), and the most incisive elite winger in the world. And they still topped the table.
Outstanding seasons from players like Coles, Vito, Ardie Savea, Barrett, and TJ Perenara are nothing out of the ordinary but the performances from relative newcomers have been great to watch.
We’ve had Reggie Goodes playing like he’s a contestant on “New Zealand’s Next Top Loosehead”, Fatialofa showing that he can mix it up with any second rower on the planet, Vaea Fifita’s outstanding athleticism, Blade Thomson’s mastery of the lineout, Halaholo’s powerful yet agile running, and an amazing range of skills from the do-everything Matt Proctor.
They might not be the mightiest, or the most inspiring, or the most inventive but have you ever seen a team with as much speed from 1-10 as this one?
Bravo, Hurricanes – I don’t think I can refer to them as the flaky ‘Canes anymore.
Written by Sim