New Zealand Rugby: Are the Hurricanes Done After a Shocking Loss to the Rebels?

James MortimerAnalyst IMarch 25, 2011

Conrad Smith had a quiet game
Conrad Smith had a quiet gameMark Dadswell/Getty Images

You know that something is amiss when a team wears an away strip of grey—hardly the most inspiring of tones—despite the obvious fact that the home side wears dark blue, and the travelers would normally don yellow.

Rules or omen, there is always a sense of the unknown when watching the Hurricanes play, champions-elect at times, inconceivable losers in most distressing circumstances.

They played with explosiveness in the first quarter of an hour that would have blown any team away.

Those who know the switched-on Hurricanes (last year was only the second time since 2005 then they haven’t reached the finals) can recall a fierce tendency to blow teams away when the intangible clicks.

Yet that same unknown quality can make mere mortals of the numerous quality players the team wields, demonstrated against their foes today by nine past or present All-Blacks, including the vaunted test incumbent midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

The Rebels, rabble at moments but heroes when mood takes them, showed that they wield potential far beyond what losses might indicate.

If coach Rod Macqueen was indeed psychologist as he lamented he may need to be after the half-century loss to Queensland, then he proved himself a master in another field as the newest Super Rugby team had the mental fortitude to come back against the odds.

If the Hurricanes had managed to add even a solitary try to their opening burst of 17 points, then an old fashioned shutdown would have enabled the visitors to take the game.

However, the open nature of the game that the Hurricanes seem to crave, came back to haunt them, as the home team coordinated their efforts and played with a determination and cohesiveness remarkable of a maiden-year unit.

Masters of wrecking havoc when attacking via loose play or open fields, the Hurricanes have a galling habit of retaining the same eclectic formations when organising their defence.

Six tries from the Rebels (with over 80 points conceded by the Hurricanes in their last two matches) indicates a non-functional defensive system that the away team will desperately want to remedy. 

Yet a stall of their attacking game, which yielded only one try in the last 65-odd minutes, will also need to be addressed, indicating the coach Mark Hammett has it all to do in the coming weeks.

There was not the slightest hint of the famed Crusaders' structure in place after the Hurricanes registered their third score, and while the former red and black forward’s mentor may not have inherited a poisoned chalice, the worst of the Hurricanes' diverse reputation came back to sting them at the so-coined "Stockade" in the heart of Melbourne.

Interestingly, it was observed that as the Rebels took control the Hurricanes began to play as individuals.

As the Rebels united and drove forward as one.

This was inelegantly displayed by the aforementioned starting centres for New Zealand, Nonu and Smith, who showed the most precious glimpses of their undoubted class, even if they seemed to rarely operate as a dynamic duo.

Individualism, no matter how great, will always be conquered by a unified side that operates within a well-drilled strategy, and the Rebels found their rhythm as the second quarter matured.

The Rebels in some respects have six rounds in earned respect with Hurricanes and Brumbies scalps, and the near-prized trophy of an in-form Sharks team.

The departing Hurricanes may not yet be in a crisis, however. Super Rugby’s new dynasty and the reigning champions in the Bulls will be traveling to New Zealand to face them next.

A urgent turnaround will be needed by the struggling capital-based team.