When New Zealander John Plumtree joined the Sharks at the beginning of last year as assistant coach, he had only planned to stay involved in the set-up for two years.
Craig Lewis reports for www.iol.co.za.
But he fell in love with the setting, the people and the spirit of Durban and the Sharks; and now that love story is set to continue until 2010.
And Sharks fans can rest assured that there will be a seamless transition when incumbent coach Dick Muir makes way for Plumtree at the end of this month (to take up his post as Springbok assistant coach) because there is no doubt that Plumtree has been tried, tested and has passed with flying colours.
Plumtree enjoyed great success as coach of Swansea in Wales, guiding them to glory in the Welsh Cup in 1998-99 as well as the Welsh championship in the 1997-98 and 2000-2001 season. He then went on to coach Wellington for a further four years, from 2002-06.
“I’ve had quite long tenures which is quite unusual for some coaches. So I must be doing something right,” he joked.
He then took up the role as assistant coach to Muir at the beginning of last year’s Super 14 and the rest is history as Plumtree went about refining and developing the Sharks forwards.
By the end of the 2007 Super 14 the Sharks boasted one of the most dominant set-pieces in the game and one of the most feared pack of forwards.
Plumtree though is rather modest when it comes to taking credit.
“I’d like to think I played some part but it’s not about me really it’s about the players. I just want to help the players grow as individuals not just on the field, but off it as well. We have been trying to create an environment of empowerment where the players have a responsibility in terms of helping with strategy and how we are going to play the game.
“I know players enjoy the environment and want to play here. Retaining and recruiting players is crucial to any team and I just hope I can continue to achieve that,” he said.
Plumtree also took over the leadership reins entirely during the Currie Cup last year as the Sharks surged to a semifinal berth.
“We had a pretty young side and we probably let ourselves down a little because we had an opportunity to make the final, but that whole season was fantastic in terms of blooding some youngsters,” Plumtree explained.
He added that he was also really excited for this year’s upcoming Currie Cup, which may see some new faces among the coaching staff.
“We are looking at another coach and a number of applicants. We will look to grow a local coach in the Currie Cup, which I think is important, and then for the Super 14 we will bring in someone with more experience.”
The 42-year-old, who fulfilled the loose forward position for Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and then Natal between 1989 and 1997, said the dream of coaching the Sharks was one he had harboured for many years.
“When I left here in 1997 and started a coaching career I had the thought in the back of my mind that I would like to come back and coach the side I played so many games for. Sharks rugby has been a big part of my life, as a player and now as a coach.”
Plumtree grew up on his dad’s farm in Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island but said South Africa had always held a special place in his heart.
“I have a real affinity with the South African people that started a long time ago,” he explains. “I’ve always loved Durban itself, but the people are the special thing about the place for me. I’ve got a lot of friends and family here and I guess New Zealand will always be home, but this will be my hometown if you like and Durban will always be that for me.”
In terms of his philosophies on the game, Plumtree said they were pretty simple.
“I love seeing the forwards and the backs interacting and I’m fairly passionate about set-pieces, the contact side of the game and especially defence because so many games are won or lost on defence.
“My philosophies are basically the same as Dick’s, we love seeing entertaining rugby and everyone utilising their skills.”
Plumtree, who has made Durban his home along with his wife Lara and three sons, Taine, Reece and Troy, said he still had one other goal he’d like to achieve.
“Coaching nationally is definitely something that interests me and if I do well here at the Sharks then that may become a reality. Anything can happen in life I guess,” he said with a smile.Tweet