What makes Ham­mett tick?

Amy Jack­man talks to Hur­ri­canes coach and for­mer All Black Mark Ham­mett about play­ing soc­cer, Ma’a Nonu and cof­fee.

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

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.

Photo: AMY JACK­MAN

Mark Ham­mett: ‘‘I’ve al­ways been sur­prised that this team, with so much talent, has not been more suc­cess­ful.’’

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