Super Rugby season review: The Hurricanes

3:33 pm on 5 July 2019

The Hurricanes did about as well as you'd expect, in 2019.

The Hurricanes celebrate their 2019 Super Rugby quarterfinal win over the Bulls in Wellington.

Despite not making the final, the Hurricanes had a successful 2019 Super Rugby campaign, according to Hamish Bidwell. Photo: Photosport

Once again they showed themselves to Super Rugby's second-best team, losing at the semifinal phase for the third season in succession. There's no disgrace in that.

Could they have been better? Absolutely. But the bald fact of 13 wins, prior to Saturday's semifinal defeat to the two-time defending champion Crusaders, suggest things have gone pretty satisfactorily.

Best performance

The team's two wins in South Africa - 30-17 against the Sharks and 37-17 versus the Lions - are worthy of a mention here. Road wins in South Africa remain scarce for most visiting teams, so to get two was some achievement.

But, actually, the best Hurricanes performance of 2019 came in their 30-26 semifinal loss to the Crusaders. It wasn't the perfect game, but it indicated progress.

The Hurricanes had lost the most-recent meeting between the sides 32-8, as well as last year's semi in Christchurch 30-12. No, they didn't win this time around, but they could have and that should be commended.

Worst performance

The 28-20 loss at home to the Jaguares was the Hurricanes at their worst.

Complacent, inaccurate, a little bit soft; it was the kind of night that took fans back to the bad old days.

Best player

Two guys in contention here, with no prizes for guessing who.

TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea were outstanding this season. Like all New Zealand teams, the Hurricanes were hampered by injury and All Blacks-prescribed rests. When resources are limited, you need your very best players to lead and take ownership of results and you'd have to say Savea and Perenera did that on a regular basis.

Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara

TJ Perenara was one of the Hurricanes best performers in 2019. Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga / Photosport Ltd 2019

Their influence over games was pronounced and inspired others to try and match their efforts. Without Perenara and Savea, the Hurricanes would have struggled to make the playoffs.

Either would be a worthy choice for player of the year, but Savea probably just shades it.

Most Improved

Plenty of players made progress this year, including Ben Lam, Wes Goosen, Asafo Aumua, James Blackwell and Peter Umaga-Jensen. But, if you're looking for a guy who went from nowhere to somewhere in 2019, then it's lock Isaia Walker-Leawere.

Always a talent, the boy from Ruatoria made good on some of that promise, showing great durability and skill. A big man, with a big engine, the 22-year-old now has the opportunity to go on to bigger things.

No kidding

The career of former Hurricane Christian Cullen was honoured in a recent television documentary, which featured at least one ironic moment.

Former Blues star Carlos Spencer was talking about the Hurricanes teams he used to play against and how they always had good backs and loose forwards, but no tight five.

Spencer now coaches at the Hurricanes, and was filmed for the documentary sitting at team HQ. You wonder if, even as he spoke, he realised the team were as deficient in the tight five now as they were back in the 1990s.

It's certainly a long time to go without ever fixing your franchise's one obvious weakness.

Dane didn't hurt

The long-awaited return to full fitness of captain Dane Coles stiffened things up a little this year.

Calf, knee and concussion problems meant the hooker became skipper in name only in recent seasons, robbing the team not only of one of its best players, but its true leader.

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles

Dane Coles finally got back onto the rugby field for the Hurricanes in 2019. Photo: Photosport

Coles backs down to no-one and his abrasive play and attitude were sorely missed.

It was nice to be reminded just what a good player he is.

The Barretts

Beauden Barrett won't be around next year, by all accounts.

Otago's Fletcher Smith was recruited specifically with 2020 in mind and now we wait to see if Beauden comes back at all. A sabbatical in Japan appears to await the start first five-eighth and then maybe the Blues. Who knows.

Brother Jordie Barrett is also off-contract with New Zealand Rugby and the Hurricanes, after opting for just a one-year extension last year.

Beauden Barrett and Jordie Barrett

The future of Jordie and Beauden Barrett remains up in the air. Photo: Photosport

Guys have contracts come up for renewal all the time and most are extended without anyone being aware, or concerned, prior. If they're leaving the team they're at, then that's usually announced a long way in advance.

In this case, it's fair to say the Barretts have everyone on tenterhooks.

Casting forward

Centre Matt Proctor is a massive loss. Not a flashy player, his defensive prowess was a vital component in the team's competitiveness this season.

Lock Sam Lousi and outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder are others who the Hurricanes will miss and then there's Beauden and Jordie Barrett, whose futures with the franchise are uncertain.

The recruitment of prop Tyrel Lomax and lock Scott Scrafton will offset the departures of Jeff To'omaga-Allen and Lousi, without significantly strengthening the team's tight five.

Regardless of who ends up coming and going over the offseason, there are enough players staying that you can predict 2020 will again feature some playoff football.

Mark out of 10 for 2019

An honest eight.

No-one won more round-robin matches than the Hurricanes, who by and large played to their potential this year.

Reaching the quarterfinals represents a pass mark for most teams, so getting to the semifinals again was a success. It's a shame the conference system means the Hurricanes and Crusaders had to meet in a semi, rather than a final, but that's Sanzaar's doing.

All the Hurricanes could do was win as many games as possible and see where that left them.

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