Farewell to Nonu
Robbie Deans, not normally given to flights of fancy, once described Dan Carter as the greatest player in rugby history. That assessment seemed a bit of a stretch in 2007.
Since then, Carter has got better, setting a world record for most test points and adding experience to his various skills.
You’d think that with the much-praised Carter on the field, other players would have to take a back seat, but that certainly wasn’t the case at the Wellington stadium on Saturday evening.
The Crusaders played the Hurricanes, and a crowd of 17,500 (a Wellington record for the season by 5000) turned out, despite grim weather. They weren’t there to see the masterful Carter, or any of his big-name Crusaders team-mates.
It was a chance to farewell several Hurricanes stalwarts.
The captain, Andrew Hore, a veteran of 10 seasons in the Hurricanes jersey, was told earlier this month he was no longer required. So too was Ma’a Nonu, the sturdy midfielder so closely identified with Wellington rugby.
Rodney So’oialo, Johnny Schwalger and Neemia Tialata closed their Hurricanes careers, and backline stars such as Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu and Cory Jane are weighing their options.
The axing of Nonu was the biggest news in Wellington rugby since Jonah Lomu announced he would become a Hurricane in 2000. So there was a special feeling the other night.
Every time Nonu got the ball, the crowd buzzed. Unfortunately for the locals, the Crusaders’ defence was so organised and tight Nonu had few chances to set the game alight.
I was stunned when I heard Nonu and Hore had been dumped by fledgling Super coach Mark Hammett.
They are quality players, and the All Black coaches don’t seem to have trouble getting the best out of them.
Perhaps it signalled a deficiency in Hammett’s coaching? But let’s think a little deeper.
The Hurricanes, despite all the superb players they’ve had over the years, have never won a Super title. This season they’ve failed to make even the expanded play-offs.
Listening to Hammett the other evening, I could see what he was getting at. He said the fortnight since the announcement had been extremely tough on him and his family, as Wellington rugby fans left him in no doubt what they thought of Nonu’s forced departure.
‘‘I’m the culprit in their eyes. I just have to take it,’’ he said. ‘‘ We are a passionate people and we wouldn’t want to lose that. But there does need to be change.’’
For all his shellacking, Hammett remains adamant about what he’s done. He said he had got to know the players during the season.
The Crusaders rolled into Wellington, took on a fired-up Hurricanes side and did the business professionally, even with one eye on the play-offs.
It would be nice for Hurricanes fans if their team could display some of that clinical efficiency. If Hammett, formerly a Crusader, can bring that to the Hurricanes, Wellingtonians will forgive him for all his sins, even the sacking of our man Ma’a.