Loss of experience and new coach sees a season of transition for Canes, but groundwork for title charge looms


Within Super Rugby, there are a few teams that have looked to challenge the Crusaders’ stranglehold on the trophy.

While the Blues and Chiefs have both fallen at the final hurdle and the Brumbies also naturally stick out as the non-Kiwi representative in semis, many forget how good a side the men out of Wellington can be.

The Hurricanes have enjoyed a strong roster since lifting their first trophy in 2016, and have made finals every single year since 2015. Yet, in Super Rugby Pacific, they are still to progress to past quarterfinals, being knocked out on both occasions by the Brumbies in Canberra.

However, given how close and how controversial the second of those fixtures was, it would be wrong to assume the Canes don’t have the cattle to progress further. 

The 2023 quarter-final clash between the Hurricanes and Brumbies remains one of the most controversial endings in the last few seasons of Super Rugby Pacific. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The 2024 season will see a lot of changes at the Cake Tin, arguably some of the biggest faced by any of the Kiwi clubs. The biggest is the replacement of Jason Holland (who moves into Razor’s All Blacks coaching team) with Scot Clark Laidlaw taking the reins, the first non-Kiwi head coach in the franchise’s history.

Despite this, Laidlaw is familiar with the Canes setup, having cut his teeth as an assistant coach in the years leading up to their first title. He’ll have plenty of challenges on his hands however to maintain the Canes form, especially with the IP that has departed their ranks. 

2024 Summary 

Laidlaw has had success since departing the Canes in 2015, working at London Irish as an assistant coach before transitioning to the New Zealand Sevens head coach role, where he helped lead the All Blacks Sevens side to two World Series titles and two bronze-placed finishes, plus a silver medal at the 2020 Olympics. 

Given how high he has been in the NZRU program and how long he has been established in Sevens rugby, the transition to the Canes will likely not serve as too much of an issue. However, his first key challenge is addressing the Hurricanes pack.

The team have said goodbye to 13 players from the 2023 season, and while the losses are considerable across the whole squad, it is especially felt in the forward pack. 

Among the key names who have departed include All Blacks veterans Owen Franks, Dane Coles, former captain Ardie Savea, his brother Julian Savea, and Italian international Hame Faiva. 

On top of the frontline players, a lot of handy backup options have also departed, including Reed Prinsep, Jamie Booth, Dominic Bird and James Blackwell. While the Hurricanes still have a quality outfit and eight All Blacks remaining in their squad, 2024 will loom as a test of their squad’s depth. 

Laidlaw has aimed to address the lack of international experience and the larger gap between his starting side and the backup options with some older, more seasoned selections in his new arrivals, but it will be a challenge to replace the experience of six All Blacks. 

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Squad & New Inclusions

The Hurricanes will welcome eight new arrivals into their squad, with most of the changes unsurprisingly coming into the engine room of the locks and loose forwards.

In the front pack, All Black Tyrell Lomax serves as a solid anchor, well supported by the likes of well-seasoned players Tevita Mafileo, Pouri Rakete-Stones and Xavier Numia. They will be joined by Wellington Lions product Siale Lauaki, in addition to fellow Wellington player James O’Reilly as hooker backup.

The second row will see three new additions, with Caleb Delany and Isaia Walker-Leawere likely serving as the starting locks. Laidlaw has backed them up with exciting arrival James Tucker from the Blues, and former Western Force lock Ben Grant. 

The Hurricanes boast one of the fastest attacking sides in the competition. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Even more notable is the return of 100-capped Hurricane Brad Shields, who went on to earn nine caps for England but is now eligible for the All Blacks. He’ll have hard work breaking into the starting side, given the solid options of Devan Flanders, Maori All Black TK Howden and one of the most exciting players in any Super Rugby squad who still is to be selected at international level, Du’Plessis Kirifi.

However, while the forwards have undergone some changes, the backline for the Canes looms as a very dangerous attacking weapon, with Cam Roigard and TJ Perenara in the halves alongside Brett Cameron and New Zealand U20 prospect Aiden Morgan.

Boasting the second-highest in the competition for tries and the highest for offloads, the Hurricanes know how to go forward.

The centres boast a wealth of experienced heads and new U20s graduates spearheaded by Jordie Barrett, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Billy Proctor, in addition to strong weapons out on the wing, with Kini Naholo and Salesi Rayasi among the most dangerous players in open space, should they stay injury free. 

The Hurricanes built up a strong record in Wellington. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Squad: *denotes new signing

Props: Siale Lauaki*, Tyrel Lomax, Tevita Mafileo, Xavier Numia, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Pasilio Tosi

Hookers: Asafo Aumua, Jacob Devery, James O’Reilly*

Locks: Caleb Delany, Ben Grant*, Justin Sangster, Josh Taula*, James Tucker*, Isaia Walker-Leawere

Loose Forwards: Devan Flanders, TK Howden, Brayden Iose, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Brad Shields* 

Scrumhalves: Richard Judd*, TJ Perenara, Cam Roigard

Flyhalves: Brett Cameron, Aidan Morgan

Centres: Jordie Barrett, Riley Higgins, Billy Proctor, Bailyn Sullivan, Peter Umaga-Jensen

Wingers & Fullbacks: Josh Moorby, Kini Naholo, Ngane Punivai*, Salesi Rayasi, Daniel Sinkinson, Harry Godfrey, Ruben Love

Strengths & Weaknesses

It is important to acknowledge that despite the personnel changes, the Hurricanes are still a very dangerous side, and should be in the mix for finals.

The likes of Roigard and Jordie Barrett are established names in the All Black squad that will get the Hurricanes going forward quickly and effectively, especially in situations of broken play and counterattack.

In the forwards, Lomax will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders as the scrum and set piece gel throughout the season, but another inclusion eager to prove themselves is hooker Asafo Aumua. 

Having played second fiddle to Coles, a chance now to make that starting role his own is an opportunity he will grab with both hands – he should emerge as one of the most dangerous players this season, and a likely challenger to wear an All Black jersey for the likes of the Crusaders’ Codie Taylor or the Chiefs’ Samisoni Taukei’aho.

Laidlaw will be relying heavily on the senior leadership group in the forward pack to come through and deliver synergy and team cohesion in the forward pack. Oppositions will immediately look to target the set piece and newer players in the Canes’ outfit, to stop the forwards setting a foundation. 

It is important to remember that under the previous group in the forward pack, the Hurricanes boasted the highest percentage of scrums won in the competition (89%).

Can Salesi Rayasi stay fit? (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The set piece will be a harder nut to crack than many teams might think with the likes of Aumua, Delany and Tucker in the ranks, but with a lot of sides boasting more international experience, it would not be impossible.

Another key challenge for the Hurricanes is depth, especially in certain positions. Similar to several Australian sides, their starting squad looks like a lethal side that can beat anyone on their day, but 2023 showed a loss of players to injury and the exposure of newer players weighed on the Canes as the season went on.

This could prove especially problematic at flyhalf and the back three, should Laidlaw choose to go with Cameron or Morgan. While both talented options, they do lack experience compared to other squads, and last year with Rayasi out for much of the season, his go-forward was missed in key losses to the Chiefs and Drua.


The Canes will start their first two matches in Australia, heading over to Perth to face the Western Force for the opening round. While they lost last time they played in the West, this match will likely serve as a good clash to start off, given the Force are also in a similar position of establishing combinations, and have a similar level of international experience.

After playing the Reds in Super Round, they will host their first games at the Cake Tin against the Blues and Rebels, with a tough away clash against the Crusaders in-between. They will make a second trip to the South Island ahead of their mid-season bye when they take on the Highlanders. 

Can the Hurricanes forward pack still maintain their strong form? (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The tough fixtures continue in Round Eight, with the Chiefs coming to Wellington followed by two difficult away clashes against the Drua in Suva and the Brumbies in Canberra. 

However, after this, the Canes will enjoy the rest of their clashes back on North Island, as they host the Waratahs, Moana Pasifika and the Highlanders in the final odd weeks of the regular season, with trips away to Eden Park and Hamilton in Rounds 12 and 14, respectively.

All up, the majority of this season will be a hard slog for the Hurricanes, especially for many of their away fixtures. However, minimal travel at the business end of the season and some favourable home clashes should see them build some strong momentum when they need it.

Predicted Finish: 7th

The Hurricanes are more than a quality enough side to make finals in 2024, but given the change of coaching team, loss of several key All Blacks and a tough draw in the first two-thirds of the season, they may drop down the ladder compared to more established teams as the new blood gets time under their belts.

This part of the ladder is relative given how close it has been in previous years, so should Laidlaw address cohesion in the forward pack, he could lay the foundations for a very dangerous title charge in the coming years.

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