A year after his move south from the Crusaders to the Highlanders, Mitch Hunt has opened up on the contrasting cultures that drive the two franchises.
Hunt made the move to Dunedin from Christchurch ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby season in search of more game time with his impact at the Crusaders limited due to the presence of star first-five Richie Mo’unga.
During his time with the Crusaders, the 25-year-old won a hat-trick of titles as part of one of the most successful teams in the competition’s history.
That success continued on through to 2020 when the Crusaders won an unprecedented fourth straight crown when they claimed the Super Rugby Aotearoa title while Hunt was playing in his debut campaign with the Highlanders.
The Dunedin franchise struggled in comparison to their South Island neighbours, with the side picking up just one win from six outings in Super Rugby prior to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Adding just three more wins to their tally from eight matches in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Highlanders finished in fourth place, although Hunt enjoyed an impressive run of form, as reflected in his selection for the North vs South game.
It wasn’t just the field aspect that Hunt found enjoyable in his first years with his new team, as he got a taste for the famed off-field culture that has become synonymous with the Highlanders.
That culture has often made the franchise an appealing destination for prospective Super Rugby players, with Hunt noting considerable differences in the way in which the Highlanders operate compared to the mightily successful Crusaders.
While speaking to the What a Lad podcast last November, Hunt outlined those differences to podcast host and former Hurricanes playmaker James Marshall.
“It’s sort of led and driven through the players,” Hunt told the What a Lad podcast of the Highlanders’ approach to training.
“You’ve got guys like Nuggy [Aaron Smith], Colty [Liam Coltman], Ash Dixon and stuff to lead the culture, and just the way things were driven around the team, and a lot of the young guys, they’re just good bastards in the group, and the middle group too, they’re just real good fellas.
“I guess that culture of the mix [of players of varying statures] there was just awesome.”
The Chiefs have returned from last year's winless Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign with two first-up pre-season victories over the Blues and Hurricanes.https://t.co/mPmM0sa2cs
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By comparison, Hunt suggested the weight of history, expectation and success led the Crusaders to their three successive titles during his time there.
“I guess the Crusaders culture was more driven around that hard work, you do your work, and the success just drove the culture,” he said.
“If we worked hard, we were getting results. That whole team flow was awesome too. Great guys there.
“Razor [head coach Scott Robertson] led that group really well in terms of his theming through the seasons, connecting everyone really well too.
“Slightly different tweaks [between the Highlanders and Crusaders], but just two great teams to be a part of.”
Hunt started at No. 10 for the Highlanders against the Crusaders in their Farmlands Cup pre-season clash in Temuka on Friday, guiding his side to 26-0 lead at half-time before being subbed, with his former side eventually running out 28-26 victors.
The two sides will do battle again in a fortnight’s time when they open the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa competition at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
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