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Hurricanes spent years assembling a championship roster and about five minutes dismantling it

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Things have gone badly astray at the Hurricanes.

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Fair play to Moana Pasifika. It remains to be seen if results, such as last week’s 24-19 win over the Hurricanes, can become a regular occurrence but it certainly augurs well.

Competitions can’t sustain foregone conclusions. You need unpredictability and, let’s face it, no-one saw that Hurricanes defeat coming.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 6
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 6

But should we have? Should we have looked at the playing and personnel decisions made by the Hurricanes in recent seasons and suspected that a defeat like this was possible?

Should we have already wondered aloud about the sense of dispensing with someone such as Danny Toala – who scored Friday’s matchwinner – while retaining the consistently underwhelming Billy Proctor?

Should we ask questions about the coaching of the side and cite Xavier Numia and Alex Fidow as examples of promising players who can’t seem to improve at the Hurricanes?

Should we question the signing of others, such as Julian Savea, Owen Franks and TJ Perenara, whose best days are behind them?

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Should we wonder if appointing Jason Holland as head coach was a good idea, given all his previous experience was as an understudy?

Should we, going back a way, again ask if jettisoning Chris Boyd was really such a good idea, when it was clear John Plumtree had coaching aspirations at a higher level?

People ask me what’s wrong with Super Rugby? Why isn’t the product what it was?

There’s a few reasons, obviously, but the one I consistently come back to is the premature departure of players.

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Let’s just use the Hurricanes as an example.

Yes, they have one or two injuries and, yes, they probably looked at Moana Pasifika as easybeats and an opportunity to rest some frontliners.

But the Hurricanes, and frankly most New Zealand franchises for that matter, no longer have the depth to roll out a competitive team of dirtrackers.

Off the top of my head, the Hurricanes have in recent times let go of players such as Vince Aso, Beauden Barrett, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Gareth Evans, Michael Fatialofa, Vaea
Fifita, Jamison Gibson-Park, Willis Halaholo, Sam Lousi, Matt Proctor, Brad Shields, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jeff To’omaga-Allen, Jason Woodward and Ihaia West.

There are others, but those are just the ones who sprung to mind.

Not many of them are world-beaters, but it is that tier of talent that rugby in New Zealand so badly misses. Guys who can come in when there’s injuries or some All Blacks who need a rest, and maintain standards.

Players who are seasoned Super Rugby performers, with the potential to maybe even play test footy at some point.

I won’t name and shame some of the younger players who pulled on the Hurricanes’ jumper against Moana Pasifika last week, but few of them are fit to lace the boots of those other blokes.

I get that the contracting model makes things hard and that guys will leave franchises for money or the opportunity to play more minutes. But when you repeatedly rip the guts out of these Super Rugby teams, standards will slip.

In the Hurricanes’ case, they spent years trying to assemble a championship roster and about five minutes dismantling it.

Moana Pasifika could become the best thing to happen to Super Rugby in ages. If they can become a genuine vehicle for Pacific rugby and attract more players to play international footy for Samoa and Tonga rather than New Zealand, then we’ll all benefit.

But that will take time and you fear Moana Pasifika will be gone from the competition long before their potential is realised.

As for this season, they’re a start-up, facing huge challenges and trying to combat those without a particularly deep pool of talent.

The effort and desire to do well is clearly there, but some weeks they’ll simply be outmatched by superior teams.

We all sympathise with what Moana Pasifika is up against and will accept their results accordingly.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, there’s no such excuses for the state they’ve got themselves in.

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