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Settled Hurricanes making slow improvement
Greg Growden and ESPN Staff
February 14, 2013
The Hurricanes' Julian Savea races in to score a try, Hurricanes v Rebels, Super Rugby, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, May 26, 2012
Julian Savea broke 65 tackles and made 1005 metres in Super Rugby 2012. © Getty Images
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The Hurricanes showed improved stability last season, after the mass exit of star players in 2011. Now, Greg Growden believes, they have to improve their defence.

Last season: Eighth overall, third in New Zealand conference; critics expected little after Mark Hammett lost All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Hosea Gear and Andrew Hore, but the Wellington franchise missed the finals by just two competition points after scoring more points (489) and tries (58) and tallying more four-try bonus points (8) than any other team.

Key man: Julian Savea was a statistician's dream in 2012, the winger breaking 65 tackles, making 1005 run metres, 11 linebreaks and seven linebreak assists, and tallying nine tries and four try assists to capture the attention of All Blacks' selectors. Similar efforts in 2013 from the 2012 breakout star most likely will see the Hurricanes challenging strongly for the play-offs.

Rising star: Samisoni Fisilau is one of eight new faces in Wellington, the Tonga halfback called up after strong performances for Northland in the ITM Cup. A physical presence at 183cm and 106kg, he is described by Mark Hammett as "combative", "skilful" and with "a good box kick ... things tend to happen around him"; he could be a breakout star this season.

Season preview: The Canes need a stronger defensive line in 2013 after conceding 39 tries in 2012 and suffering five of their six defeats by more than seven points; stiffen up and hang tougher under pressure, while maintaining their offensive thrust, and they could be strong finals contenders in the New Zealand conference.

Greg Growden's verdict: Mark Hammett is gradually getting the squad he wants. Hammett had a demanding initiation to Super Rugby coaching, after he alienated so many big names in 2011, including several All Blacks, to prompt a mass exit. There weren't major improvements last season, but they appeared to be a far more settled squad. Hammett will stick with much the same this season, when his prime responsibility will be to remind his squad that they actually have to tackle their opponents; at times their defence has been dreadful.

Tip: Fourth in New Zealand conference. Finish: Ninth overall.

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