What is the missing ingredient for the Hurricanes? Since 2003, they have reached five semi-finals, yet despite showing constant glimpses of their potential, have never really looked in the same class as a championship team such as the Crusaders or Bulls.
Everyone knows the team’s potential, most of all their own supporters. Stacked with All Blacks, and capable of playing a brand of rugby that is all consuming, the Hurricanes greatest strength this year seemed to hurt them at the worst of times.
Flamboyant with a desire to play an up tempo game, the Hurricanes struggled when faced against teams capable of shutting a match down, and their four-match losing streak to the pragmatic South African teams ultimately killed their season.
Yet almost paradoxically for the side, when the opportunity to unleash their all consuming attack was upon them, they sometimes played the percentages in a manner which never really suited their personality.
Furthermore, the Hurricanes apparent lack of ability to adjust cost them at key stages, with the landmark results being heavy losses to the Cheetahs and the Stormers, who played canny defensive patterns and frustrated the Wellington-based franchise at the ruck which had them officially midway through the season the most penalised team in the competition.
This, of course, is the harsh assessment out of the way, but they are points that have aggravated not only their loyal base of supporters, but also the players and coaches as well.
Coach Colin Cooper will depart for Taranaki very much with a feeling of what could have been, especially with one of the most talented squads in the Southern Hemisphere.
There is no doubt that he departs with an impressive record over eight years, yet surely even the coaching Super rugby centurion knows that his side should have hoisted the Super 14 title at least once.
As Mark Hammett prepares to take the reins of the side in 2011, one wonders whether or not the former Crusaders assistant will impart some of the “complete game” we often witness in red and black teams, to plug the gaps of a Hurricanes side clearly good enough, but missing that certain je ne sais quoi.
Good enough, you ask?
It is a pretty simple equation, although one that might cause more pain for their fans still coming to grips at their inglorious exit at the hands of the Waratahs.
A defeat where the New South Welshman’s game plan was apparent from the beginning, take the Hurricanes on at their own game, and disturb their patterns accordingly.
One more win and the Hurricanes would now be preparing for finals football.
Despite their heavy and unpredicted loss to the Cheetahs, and their failure to breach the Stormers ironclad defensive wall, they showed in their following three matches that they were indeed the match of any team.
A one point loss to the Bulls at fortress Loftus was followed by a heartbreaking defeat to a resurgent Sharks team in the final minutes.
A draw against their old nemesis the Crusaders meant that the Hurricanes would emerge from the bye winless for six weeks, and with a third of the season to go, their epitaph was already being penned.
Yet it spoke volumes of the character of the side that they shut down a Wallaby-laden Brumbies side, en-route to winning four straight matches which culminated in their finest half of rugby for the year, putting on 31 unanswered points to down the impressive Queensland Reds.
Some questions will continue to be asked, such as whether playmaking prodigy Aaron Cruden should have been brought into the starting side earlier in the season, yet such a remark is really a moot point when the Hurricanes bolted out to a 3-0 start to kick off their campaign.
The hardest aspect for the proud franchise is that they know, like their supporters, that they are and have been good enough for long periods throughout this season.
The 2010 Super 14 season will be another where all and sundry will wonder what could have been, as the talented Hurricanes continue to wait for that elusive first title.
Hurricanes 2010 season
Beat Blues 34-20
Beat Force 47-22
Beat Lions 33-18
Lost Cheetahs 12-28
Lost Stormers 13-37
Lost Bulls 18-19
Lost Sharks 26-29
Drew Crusaders 26-26
Beat Brumbies 23-13
Beat Highlanders 33-31
Beat Chiefs 33-27
Beat Reds 44-21
Lost Waratahs 32-16
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