Hammington making most of late chance

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The 27-year-old was a member of the 2010 New Zealand Under-20 World Cup winning side in Rosario and while team-mates like Liam Coltman, Charlie Ngatai, Julian Savea, Luke Whitelock and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have all gone on to play Test rugby, and several others have become permanent fixtures in Super Rugby sides, Hammington has had to battle away for his opportunities.

When gaining a place in the Highlanders squad for 2017 he had only 44 first-class appearances behind him, including five games for the Chiefs spread over two seasons.

Having to move from the Chiefs down to the Highlanders had been significant but Dunedin was just like the Hamilton base and a friendly and welcoming place to be, he said.

He enjoyed the early call-up because it allowed him to get a full pre-season in and that was something he had never done before.

The chance for Super Rugby had been a long time coming for him. He had never given up hope, although that involved moving out of the Wellington base where he grew up and played his early rugby.

"Learning off the best halfback in the world [Aaron Smith] is pretty exciting. He's a good guy and he's helped me a lot in terms of the structures and my own skill sets. He's a pretty positive man and always giving good feedback," he said.

The switch to Manawatu was a crucial move in terms of his overall career. The 2014 national provincial championship season helped him a lot and gave him confidence at a key time.

Hammington paid credit to coach Jason O'Halloran who was with Manawatu at the time. He instilled confidence among the players and he gave Hammington his first shot at consistent match play.

"I'd never really had consistent game time and he gave that to me, and that definitely went a long way," he said.

O'Halloran made his mark with the Manawatu side, lifting them out of the Championship and into Premiership status before heading off overseas.

Hammington said O'Halloran had a good technical coaching style.

"He was pretty good to work with, he analyses the teams really well and he analyses your skill set well and gives you heaps of little work-ons and he was really good for our backs that year. We had the likes of Nehe [Milner-Skudder] as well who had a really outstanding season that year so he helped out a lot as well," he said.

Unfortunately for Manawatu they were unable to dig in and play in the Premiership for more than one season. That had been disappointing, Hammington said. Their goal had been to stay up for a few years and aim for the play-offs but they were unable to.

However, that did mean they could have another crack at getting back up and making sure they got into some finals rugby again.

"I was pretty excited the first time I got a chance at Super Rugby but obviously I had aspirations to make it more of a full-time gig and was lucky enough to sort something this year," he said.

As he has been exposed more to Super Rugby requirements he has learned more about how to structure his own game.

Watching Aaron Smith play and his emphasis on speed in getting to breakdowns was something that Hammington realised he needed to be doing.

"That's a point of difference for someone who is my size. Making sure I am quick around the park and high energy all the time is hopefully my point of difference in getting in and out and clearing that ball," he said.

That requirement was something that had come to him later in his career when O'Halloran made him aware of it when he moved to Manawatu.

While it had been a demanding start for the Highlanders against the other New Zealand franchises, Hammington wasn't deterred. That was why you played Super Rugby and it just happened they were four of the better teams in the competition.

"It's like a baptism of fire and we take each week as a massive challenge. You can't look at it as too much of a daunting task. If you want to be champions you have to beat those types of teams anyway.

"It would have been good to have some nice easy wins but it is also good to get straight in at the deep end," he said.

That continues at the weekend in Canberra when the Highlanders face the Australian Conference leaders, the Brumbies.

"The boys have put a lot of energy into training this weekend and obviously after that start we've got something to prove so it should be a big week," he said.