New Zealand Rugby Union officials say they are confident the Wellington Hurricanes will field a competitive team in next year’s Super 15 despite the mass exodus of top players from the franchise.
All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore signed a one-year deal with the Otago Highlanders on Monday after being cut from the Hurricanes for next year’s season along with New Zealand teammate center Ma’a Nonu, who has joined the Auckland Blues.
New Zealand flyhalf Aaron Cruden and scrumhalf Piri Weepu have also quit the Hurricanes in recent weeks, for the Waikato Chiefs and Auckland Blues respectively, and All Blacks wingers Hosea Gear and Cory Jane are considering offers from other teams.
Both Gear and Jane are expected to join the exodus, leaving center Conrad Smith as the only current All Black on the Hurricanes’ books.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew and professional rugby manager Neil Sorensen met with Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni on Monday and later affirmed their confidence in the team’s management and in coach Mark Hammett.
“He [Te Puni] has come into quite a tough environment and made some tough calls,” Sorenson told the Dominon-Post newspaper. “He’s only been there three months and Mark [Hammett’s] only been there for a heartbeat as well. They’re new boys and they’re in the firing line at the moment.”
“We understand some of the fans will be disappointed to lose some of those players, but it’s only really Piri and Aaron who have left of their own accord. Of course, it’s tough down there at the moment, like it’s tough at the Highlanders and the Chiefs. We’ve got no issue with them,” Sorenson said.
The Hurricanes have made no significant signings since the end of the last Super 15 season and are seen as unlikely to be able to attract international players from other New Zealand teams. Sorensen said that loss of the franchise’s leading players did not necessarily mean the Hurricanes would be easy to beat next season.
“This is what happens in franchises sometimes with a new coach, a new CEO and a new direction. They finished only a few points behind the Highlanders this year and everyone was raving about how well the Highlanders did,” he said.
Hurricanes chairman Paul Collins believes the team will be competitive next season.
“If you go through and look at the players the Hurricanes have contracted, we will have a competitive team going forward. It’s not about one year, it’s about two, three, four and five years,” Collins said. “Everyone talks about creating a dynasty, but you actually have to have the foundations for that. Some players we would have liked to have kept, like Piri and Cruden, but they’ve made their own decisions. We’re certainly very confident and positive that we’re heading in the right direction.”