Plumtree confirmed as Sharks coach for next season

rugby04 May 2023 07:42| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
John Plumtree © Twitter

The Cell C Sharks have confirmed what has long been an open secret by making the official announcement that John Plumtree will take over as Senior Head Coach at the franchise from the beginning of July.

The negotiations with the New Zealander were done a few months ago but it is understood the deal could not be announced because of a clause in the settlement agreement he made with his former employers when he was axed as All Blacks forwards coach last July.

Although Plumtree has served as an All Black and Ireland assistant, and was involved in coaching Super Rugby winning teams in his time with the Hurricanes, the former Natal Currie Cup winning looseforward is in some senses returning home. He not only coached the Sharks for a period of time, he also played 80 games for Natal/Sharks between 1988 and 1996 in addition to 37 games for his home province Taranaki before that and another 11 for Hawkes Bay when he broke his career in South Africa for a brief stint back in his homeland in 1992.

Plumtree started his coaching career with the Welsh club Swansea in 1997. He stayed with the Welsh club for five seasons and in addition to winning the Welsh Cup in 1999 and the Welsh League the year before that, he was also credited with the discovery of the former Welsh international star Gavin Henson during his time in the principality.

Thereafter followed five years with Wellington back in New Zealand before the wanderlust struck him once more and he joined Dick Muir’s Sharks coaching staff in 2007 as a senior assistant coach. The Sharks came close to winning Super Rugby for the first time during his first season of involvement as a coach of the province/franchise he won two Currie Cup titles with as a player (1990 and 1996), with the Sharks team captained by John Smit being beaten in the 2007 final only by a last gasp and quite freaky try to Bulls wing Bryan Habana.

Plumtree took over as Sharks head coach as Muir moved to the Springboks as Peter de Villiers’ assistant in 2008 and guided the Sharks to a drought breaking Currie Cup title that same year, beating the Bulls in the Durban final to grab their first silverware since 1996, when Plumtree was still a player.

When his former captain Smit became CEO at the Sharks in 2013 Plumtree was shown the door, but his career arguably went better because of that decision than the Sharks’ did. Although they did win the Currie Cup in 2013 and again in 2018, both times winning finals against Western Province in Cape Town, the Sharks have experienced lean times when it comes to the international regional competitions and look unlikely to qualify at this point for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

Plumtree, now 57, will feel he has learned a lot in the decade since his last involvement with the Sharks - it is in fact 10 years almost to the month - as he has worked under Joe Schmidt at Ireland and in Ian Foster’s management group at the All Blacks, as well as being part of the winning Hurricanes coaching group. He was head coach at the Hurricanes in 2019.

He also worked as an assistant to head coach Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown in Japan’s buildup to their excellent performance at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which they hosted.

Although he has been involved with the All Blacks, Japan and Ireland in coaching roles, it is of interest to note that his only national representation as a player was indeed with South Africa. He played for the Springbok Sevens team, before they became known as the Blitzboks, in two Hong Kong Sevens tournaments.

Plumtree will feel he is a better and more experienced coach than when he left Durban a decade ago which is a good thing as there can be no hiding the massive amount of work he needs to do at a franchise which has the money to attract marquee players but which has struggled to build a winning culture and has mostly been on the back foot since his first stint as Sharks coach ended.

For a start, the stated objective of the Sharks' American equity partners of winning the Champions Cup is likely to be put on hold in his first season as the Sharks will have to win the URC to get into the elite European competition. They face a tough ask as they go to Dublin on Saturday to face top seeds and tournament favourites Leinster in the quarterfinal.