John Plumtree, who takes over from Dick Muir as head coach in just over a fortnight, says the Sharks have the makings of a championship side.
John Bishop writes in The Witness that the 44-year-old Plumtree, who has coached for five years at Swansea and four at Wellington, said on Monday that he would not have signed a contract with the Sharks “if I didn’t like what was happening here.”
Plumtree, a former Natal loose forward, retired in 1997 and left South Africa.
“Sharks rugby has been a big part of my life. When I left I had at the back of my mind that I would like to one day return to coach the Sharks. It’s rewarding for a player who has played a lot of games for a side to come back and coach.”
Excited about the talent
Plumtree, who returned to Durban as Muir’s assistant in 2006, said his original plan had been to stay for two years.
“But I am excited about the talent here and I think we can win something. This is a fantastic opportunity for me.”
With Muir on a sabbatical last year, Plumtree coached the Sharks in the Currie Cup and the watered-down team, missing their many Springboks, produced outstanding rugby in reaching a home semi-final.
Plumtree said he was not intimidated by the challenge.
“I did it for good couple of years (at Swanseaand Wellington). I share the same philosophy with Dick on coaching and how to run a team environment.”
He said that nothing much would change and the emphasis would be on ensuring that the players were enjoying what they were doing.
“I have real empathy for South African people, my family is South African and I now have the opportunity to continue the work I have done over the past couple of years along with Dick, Grant Bashford and the entire management group.”
Plumtree said that another assistant coach would be appointed.
” We will look to grow a local coach in the Currie Cup, which I think is important, and then in Super 14 we will probably bring in someone with experience.”
He said that coaching at international level remained an ambition.
“Who knows, if I do a good job here that could become a reality.”
Sharks circling for the kill
Meanwhile Bishop writes in the same publication that The Chiefs have been severely disrupted by injuries but Sharks coach John Plumtree believes they will still mount a formidable challenge in the Super 14 clash at King’s Park on Saturday night.
The Chiefs, beaten by the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday night in one of the season’s biggest upsets, have seven players on the injury list while an eighth, prop Ben May, has been banned for stomping.
Chiefs coach Ian Foster has described this week as “a nightmare” for his team. Three players – Simms Davison (injured back), Simon Lemalu (knee) and centre Richard Kahui – have already gone home. Another four, Sione Lauaki (hamstring), Sitiveni Sivivatu (ankle), hooker Tom Willis and Steve Donald (neck), are doubtful starters.
Four players, Nathan White, hooker John Pareanga, Murray Williams and scrumhalf Brendon Leonard, have flown to South Africa and more replacements could be leaving for South Africa today.
But Plumtree, who takes over from Dick Muir as Sharks head coach at the end of the month, is taking nothing for granted.
“We are planning for the Chiefs game as if they are at full strength. They are flying out replacements and there are some pretty good players and I’m sure they’ll step up.”
Would be missed
Plumtree said that the Chiefs were still in the chase for a semi-final beth if they picked up five points and other results went their way.
“Even if they are out of contention on Saturday they will want to win and finish up the log. It is important for their franchise as they don’t have a great history in the competition.”
Plumtree conceded that some of their injured players were top performers.
“The stats of Sione Lauaki (the 120kg All Black loose forward) are scary and he has done a lot of damage to the Sharks in the past. It would be a boost for us if he is sitting on the sidelines.”
Plumtree said that Sitiveni Sivivatu, capped 21 times for the All Blacks on the wing, was another who would be missed by the Chiefs if he fails his fitness test.
“But there are still plenty of players with line-breaking ability in their squad and it will be a big examination for the Sharks.”
Turning to the Sharks, Plumtree said the lineout work against the Cheetahs had been a major concern. “But for the coaches the encouraging feature of the win was that we showed more patience, something we’ve been striving for since the Waratahs’ defeat. ”
The New Zealander said there were signs of the Sharks building on their phase play and placing opponents’ defences under stress.
Built enough pressure
“We have some great players but we have been too impatient and haven’t built enough pressure, and this has made us easy to defend against.”
Plumtree said the statistics supported this view. “In the last three games we have made fewer tackles than previously and have won more possession. You are certainly not going to win a championship just defending.”
He said there were encouraging signs amongst the backs with Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf.
“We are also pleased with Adrian Jacobs’s contribution at 13 (outside centre).”
The Sharks coach is convinced that if the Sharks can maintain their form and advance to the semi-finals (with a win over the Chiefs and at least one other result working in their favour) they would be a title threat.
“If we can get that go-forward ball and the backs can hang on to possession, we can beat anyone in the competition. We have the set piece to dominate any side. Our scrum is probably the best in the competition and our lineout is solid although we had a bit of a meltdown on the weekend.”
The Sharks, he added, also had the advantage of knowing on Saturday night just what they would have to do – “to score 70 points or 10 or just win” – to reach the semi-finals.
He is also hoping for the backing of a large crowd for what “will probably be our last Super 14 game at home this year” and that Frans Steyn and Johann Muller come through late fitness tests.
The match, the last league game of the tournament this year, kicks off at 19:10 on Saturday.Tweet