What makes Hammett tick?
Amy Jackman talks to Hurricanes coach and former All Black Mark Hammett about playing soccer, Ma’a Nonu and coffee.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and bred in Christchurch in a blue-collar area. I was the second of eight kids, the oldest boy. I always had a good jacket, because I spent so much time outside, even in winter. Because of that, when I was young I was in hospital a few times having sinus operations. The doctor said I wouldn’t be able to play sport because my nose was always blocked up. But when you’re a kid, you don’t know any different, and you deal with it. Was it always rugby? No. I didn’t get into it until high school. I went to St Thomas College in form 1 and played soccer. A teacher there would go on about me being a soccer poof. You definitely couldn’t get away with that these days! In the third form, I thought I’d show him and signed up for rugby. I loved it. It suited my personality.
You rose quickly – you captained the New Zealand under-17s.
That first year I made a schoolboy rep side and things moved very quickly to under17s, 19s and 21s. I made Canterbury when I was 19.
What makes Canterbury so successful?
They buy into it and are committed to it. Even if there was a disagreement in the team and 70 per cent of people didn’t like it, the other 30 would be committed and get the job done.
Did you dream of being an All Black?
I have a clear image of the ’87 World Cup we won. I was about 13. I can remember every player and those moments when I was busting for the toilet, but couldn’t go because I didn’t want to miss a minute. I wanted to play in that team.
What’s it like to pull on the black jersey?
The All Blacks team is really interesting. The fear of losing is such a motivator. Even now, if you play a second- tier team, you’re expected to win by 50 points. So when you ask what it was like, well, it’s a responsibility. You don’t take it lightly.
You played in the 2003 World Cup.
It was the best team I had been in. We beat South Africa by 50 points that year, Australia away from home by 50. Our preparation was outstanding. But if you have one bad game in a tournament that’s the end. It’s what happened four years later when we lost to France. It was great in ’11 getting the monkey off our back.
What do you enjoy about coaching?
Seeing people succeed on and off the field. I genuinely care about my players, so having a hand in their success is pretty cool. What is team culture? It’s what makes people want to belong. In a world of opportunities, you have to capture people. As a leader you have technical, tactical and strategic goals, but you also have to ask yourself: what have I done to make this a place where people enjoy being? And specific to the ’Canes? It’s people understanding the traditions of the place, but also questioning them and being able to move on when that tradition is no longer valuable. It happens dynamically. We’re in a transition at the moment. People like being here and we’re very connected, but we have to transition from a nice culture into a performance culture – one that’s comfortable with conflict and honest feedback without eroding the good feeling. Rugby players have no issues with physical courage, but can struggle with emotional courage.
How hard was the decision to cut Nonu and Hore and the fallout from that?
It wasn’t easy, but very few things that are worthwhile are easy. Any regrets? My over-riding thing is that I care about people. Even people I’ve had to move on, I still look back and go, ‘‘I hope they are healthy, that their family is good’’. But as a leader, you have to make hard choices. It’s why a lot of people don’t become leaders. We can get stuck wanting approval. If you’re around people and mix with them, you end up not wanting to hurt or upset them, so often you don’t.
What can fans expect this year?
I’ve always been surprised that this team, with so much talent, has not been more successful. We have developed our game now to a stage where there’s clarity of roles in the group. The progress has been really positive. When you make change, it’s very public and people want results, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
What do you do with your time off?
I love getting away, but I can be competitive. I enjoy games. When we are away as a management team, I often do what I can to spark up a bit of competition, whether it is putting something on this game or playing scrabble. I also enjoy water sports and hanging out with my wife, Tash, and two daughters.
Do you have a favourite cafe?
Gypsy Kitchen in Strathmore. They are just down the road. The cafe is quirky, the staff are friendly and the food is really good.
The Hurricanes’ first match of the regular season is away to the Sharks in South Africa in February 23. The first home game is against the Brumbies on March 7.
Mark Hammett: ‘‘I’ve always been surprised that this team, with so much talent, has not been more successful.’’