Written by Max Sharp.
After a 7-point half-time lead of 22-15, the Hurricanes went on to lose their quarter-final to the Brumbies, in Canberra, by 25-35. The loss visibly hit the team hard, as we saw some frustration towards the end of the match, as well as some near-tears afterwards.
Having placed last in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season, the team will be holding their heads higher than one year ago. The future of this team has the potential to be very bright in the next few years, so we'll use this article to analyse what this end-of-season result will mean.
Ruben Love of the Hurricanes runs a counter attack from fullback against the Chiefs in 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.
Placed fifth out of 12 teams, the Hurricanes had the third-to-best points differential, also scoring 64 tries, the joint-most, alongside the Blues and Crusaders. This was perhaps the best the Hurricanes could have placed, especially when you consider the fact that 12 extra players were added to the original 38-man squad named ahead of the season.
What we can perhaps take away from this points differential, is that the Hurricanes have long produced the best highlight reels of any team in the league, but these reels do not paper over the fact that four of their six regular season losses (including to the Western Force and Moana Pasifika), were determined by a margin of five points or less.
Repeated failure to close out a tight game, must make one consider the mentality of the Hurricanes.
Notable Individual Performances
It goes without saying that Ardie Savea is the best player in the nation, very few close followers of the game would dispute this. The 59-test veteran, who is a four-time All Blacks captain, was a monster yet again, being voted as Forward of the Year by The Black Jersey's Instagram following, while his leadership was clearly missing in the losses against the Force and Moana Pasifika. Savea's world-class defence saw him make 14 turnovers this season, the most of any NZ-based player, while his 110 tackles were from 115 attempts; a rate of 96%. Savea ranked fifth in his team and 40th overall for metres run with 711, while he shared 28th place for defenders beaten with his older brother; beating 28 in total. Savea's 9 offloads saw him ranked 38th for this statistic too. Beast.
Jordie Barrett speaks to his teammates in a warmup. Photo: Max Sharp.
The worst decision made by any coach in the league this season, was the Hurricanes' Jason Holland, moving Jordie Barrett away from fullback into midfield. Though this severely damaged the team tactically, leaving them without a tactical kicker at the back who can read the game, Barrett was going to play well no matter where he stood. Barrett made the most offloads of the competition with 29, while finishing as the second-to-highest points scorer with 118. Some are likely going to fawn over his 39 defenders beaten (9th), 149 carries (4th) and 1108 metres (6th) on attack for the season too, fairly so. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a guy played out of his position for half the season!
The return of Owen Franks to Super Rugby also happened. The 34-year-old former All Black represented the Crusaders 150 times from 2009-2019 ahead of his two seasons with the Northampton Saints in England. Though he was initially ruled out for the season, Franks debuted for the Hurricanes in the back-end of the season, against the Fijian Drua and finished the season with five games. Franks completed all 21 of his tackle attempts and ran 50 metres, whilst his ruck speed was far quicker than when he played his last test. Franks looks much leaner and fitter, while some have gone as far as suggesting a test re-call could happen. This won't come to be, but an experienced, powerful scrummager like Franks, is exactly who the Hurricanes need for 2023; which will likely be his final year as a professional athlete.
The Hurricanes' stats all look brilliant on paper. The team's 87% tackle rate was in sync with their place on the table; the Hurricanes' tackle percentage was equal with the Chiefs, better than Moana Pasifika and the Highlanders, but worse than the Crusaders and Blues. Very good to see the tackle stats for each New Zealand team reflect their comparative ranking to each other.
Having had poor work ethic and fitness from tight-five forwards in 2021, things went up a level in 2022; with the Hurricanes winning 95% of their rucks this season, the likes of Pouri Rakete-Stones and Tevita Mafileo's continued improvement assisted greatly here, as did the rookie seasons of Caleb Delany and Justin Sangster, two very promising young locks.
Though there were a couple of matches in which the Hurricanes' scrum had a shocker, we didn't see as many collapsing scrums from them this season, the team finished off with a 93% scrum percentage, so a huge credit can also go to Dan Cron, the scrum coach. Having Franks around for tips would have been primo too!
Dan Cron (right), the Hurricanes' scrum coach, ahead of a match. Photo: Max Sharp.
However, the lineout must be fixed. All too often, Player Ratings on this website would mention the Hurricanes' deficiencies in comparison to an opponent's lineout. The Hurricanes' lineout win percentage of 86% may trick some into thinking they had one of the competition's best and fairly so, only the Chiefs and Highlanders had a higher percentage. The Hurricanes however, have kept this high percentage with just two proper jumping options all season.
The fact that their first-choice loose forward combination was Blake Gibson (1.86m), Du Plessis Kirifi (1.8m) and Ardie Savea (1.9m), come the season-end, created severe limitation on the possible jumpers, allowing opponents to read the Hurricanes' post-lineout ideas well. Next season, it would be wise to pair Isaia Walker-Leawere (1.97m) with Justin Sangster (1.98m) at lock, perhaps with Caleb Delany (1.98m) at 6, if Devan Flanders (1.93m) fails to return to form after his injury struggles. The team has sorted out a win percentage, the next step for 2023 is the post-lineout management.
It would be insanity to go past the Hurricanes' array of entertaining tries as the best part of their season. Josh Moorby managed to get 9 tries in his first-ever Super Rugby season, which will assure him a call-up for the Māori All Blacks. Salesi Rayasi will be feeling disappointed not to get a call-up for Samoa too, after his 7 tries. Young midfielders Billy Proctor and Bailyn Sullivan scored 5 tries, as did Wes Goosen, who has signed for Edinburgh ahead of their 2022-23 United Rugby Championship season.
Josh Moorby makes a pass to a teammate while training. Photo: Max Sharp.
The fact that the team could score 64 tries in the regular season, despite particularly slow ball service from TJ Perenara at halfback, is impressive. Though the Hurricanes have typically failed to work together as a team in recent seasons, the leadership of Ardie Savea appears to be slowly turning things around for the Wellington-based franchise.
To get to the next level though, the Hurricanes do need to make some key changes ahead of 2023. Scott Scrafton, a senior player, has signed for Benetton, Italy, for next season, while Jordie Barrett is off-contract now. Having risen through the ranks via Canterbury, the retention of him would be wise to make.
Turning to the next generation of players has been essential for several rugby teams who have regenerated in recent years, namely England and France's national teams. The likes of James Blackwell, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Reed Prinsep, Teihorangi Walden and James O'Reilly, could perhaps be movers ahead of next season, while the leadership group surrounding Savea, could perhaps be subject to scrutiny.
The biggest change that could be made though, is amongst the coaches. Jason Holland was wildly successful as a player, but his coaching has not matched that of his two most recent predecessors, Chris Boyd and John Plumtree; both of whom had very high win percentages. Anti-Holland sentiment has brewed in some online comments sections, so he will be far better assured if the Hurricanes' board keeps their faith. With one year left of his contract, Jason Holland will need to work hard to be re-signed.
End-of-Season Grading for the Hurricanes: C+