Criticised for most of his four years at the Hurricanes, former coach Mark Hammett’s endeavours have been praised by his successor Chris Boyd on the eve of their return to the Super Rugby playoffs.
Boyd has been asked all season how he has transformed a team, who have been missing from post-season rugby since 2009, to an all-conquering outfit who have won 14 of 16 games – all while playing a brand that has run most opponents off their feet.
The Hurricanes’ surprising record as top qualifiers will count for little if they can’t beat the Brumbies in Saturday’s semi-final in front of a sold-out Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Their turnaround has only added fuel for critics of Hammett, who believe he under-achieved for four seasons despite a strong squad at his disposal.
Boyd selflessly says it is the opposite, saying the seeds of this year’s success had been planted by the previous regime.
“It’s particularly pleasing, the results this year, but a lot of the things were put in place two-three years ago,” he said.
“I honestly think it’s the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of these guys and not just this year. The majority of the team have been around for that long.”
A major injection, however, has been the return of inspirational inside centre Ma’a Nonu, who fell out with Hammett early in his regime and left the franchise.
The other key recruitment was Boyd’s assistant coach John Plumtree, who had overseen a steep progression to their forward play and added steel to the collision areas.
Boyd is wary that a playoff is as much a mental game as a physical one and that is the first taste of it for most of his team.
“But we’ve got a lot of guys who have played in big games for the All Blacks. The boys from Taranaki played in an ITM Cup final last year and the boys from Manawatu played in a final.
“Those guys have passed on their knowledge so I think we’re OK there.”
The Hurricanes have fallen short previously, winning one of their six semi-final appearances, while the Brumbies are six from eight.
A capacity crowd of 34,000 could be the Hurricanes’ biggest weapon at a venue where they have lost just twice since the Brumbies beat them in their last meeting at the start of 2014.
The Brumbies lead the teams’ head-to-head record 12-8, although their total points for and against sit at 529-529.