John Plumtree has a general idea of what it will take the championship-shy Sharks to get back into the winner’s circle.
“It’s sort of like jumping back onto the horse, even if you keep falling off,” he laughs.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Sunday Times that if there is one thing the Sharks have perfected over the years, it is falling off the horse in major finals.
In the 12 years since they last won a trophy, the Sharks have been involved in six finals — four in the Absa Currie Cup and two in Super Rugby.
Their coach’s message is that they are in a dark tunnel, and the only way to reach any light is to keep digging.
To gain insight into just how long it has been since the Sharks last won a title, consider that Plumtree, 44, was still playing for them when they did.
Things are apparently so bad that teenagers in Durban think the Currie Cup is a dish at a local Indian restaurant.
This is the pressure Plumtree finds himself under since taking over from Dick Muir earlier this year.
But to speak to the man, you would swear he was not feeling the pressure on the team to meet the fans’ expectations that the Sharks will do it this year.
“It’s more of an external pressure than it is an internal thing,” he says. “We made the Super 14 final last year and the semifinals this year.
“I understand that it’s very important to a lot of people in the province that we win a trophy, and there’s a lot of anticipation that this might be the year. But there are five other teams in the competition that can win.”
Plumtree comes across as believing the elusive title will come, but when, exactly, is difficult to pinpoint: “We must strive for consistency and to keep the core of the players we have. If we do that, it will come.”
Speaking to Sharks people, they have no doubt Plumtree is the man to deliver a trophy to lend on-field credibility to their unrivalled marketing.
Team captain Johann Muller credits the New Zealander, who initially arrived in Durban as Muir’s assistant, with the Sharks’ revival over the past few seasons.
“He’s a really technical coach and has brought good ideas from New Zealand over the last three years,” says Muller.
“He coached the side while Dick was managing the players and seeing to it that everyone was happy.
“He’s one of those okes who’s strict when he needs to be but is a great laugh on and off the field.”
Former Sharks flanker AJ Venter says Plumtree ticks the two most important coaching boxes. “He’s one of those brilliant people who know how to deal with players, be they senior or junior.
“In terms of his knowledge, he’s one of those guys who started coaching immediately after he quit playing. As a result, he never lost touch with the game.”
Venter added that while Plumtree’s coaching had evolved from a starkly black- and-white approach to one tinged with shades of grey, the one unequivocal thing he’d brought back to the Sharks was their physicality.
This standing back for no-one has seen the Sharks look unbeatable in the tournament, their form being backed up by victories over the Blue Bulls and Cheetahs in successive weekends.
Those wins are significant because ever since Natal’s upset of the century in 1990, when they won the Currie Cup, good rugby years in Durban have been measured by victories over the Bulls.
The win over the Cheetahs was good for the Sharks because they exorcised a strange sequence of events that had seen them fail to beat the Free Staters in five years of Currie Cup rugby.
Plumtree is the one man who won’t get carried away, though: “A lot of people were excited but I wasn’t.
“They scored four tries and (Bulls flyhalf) Morne Steyn missed a lot of kicks at goal.
“The game could have gone the other way.”
It is this refusal to overlook details that sets Plumtree apart for Springbok captain and Sharks hooker John Smit, who has played with “Plum” and been coached by him.
“He’s technically very good with detail and planning,” says Smit, “He’ s honest with players, which is rare, and a big promoter of team before individual.”
Sharks team manager Piet Strydom tells a story of just how much of a team man Plumtree is: “Before we played that game (the Sharks’ first Currie Cup win) against the Bulls in 1990 we named him as one of our flankers but we weren’t going to play him.
“I was convenor of selectors at the time and I had to tell him beforehand that (lock) Steve Atherton would play and not him.
“Despite obviously wanting to play in a final, he took it in the right spirit and kept quiet about it, as we’d asked him to.”
Smit’s final analysis of Plumtree in his e-mail response to the Sunday Times was: “He’s a good oke, a good mate, a good Sharks man and a good coach. You dress it up, bud!”
The truth is there’s no need for spin when it comes to Plumtree.
If the Sharks win the Currie Cup it will be because of the hard work they’ve put in, and if they don’t, there won’t be any excuses.Tweet