Plumtree Schmidt’s pick for Ireland job

The former Natal Sharks coach will take on the Irish forwards’ coaching role this season

John Plumtree: the former Natal Sharks coach is looking forward to working with Joe Schmidt and the Irish squad. Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

John Plumtree: the former Natal Sharks coach is looking forward to working with Joe Schmidt and the Irish squad. Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images


John Plumtree is looking forward to renewing old acquaintances. The newly appointed Ireland forwards’ coach, who moves here from Durban’s Natal Sharks at the end of August, will not be coming into a totally unfamiliar Irish set-up after five years in South Africa.

Formerly from New Zealand’s Taranaki, Plumtree is not only familiar with Irish coach Joe Schmidt but also with the three Kiwi provincial coaches, newly appointed Connacht coach Pat Lam, Ulster’s Mark Anscombe and Rob Penney in Munster.

“I’ve had a long genial association with The Sharks as a player and a coach. But that’s all over now and I’m looking forward to a new venture with players in Ireland,” said Plumtree yesterday.

“I know a lot of the provincial coaches from my days in New Zealand and I’m looking forward to working with Joe and Les and the IRFU. Hopefully over the next couple of years we can put a lot of smiles on people’s faces in Ireland.”

While Plumtree may have left Durban under difficult circumstances when former Springbok captain John Smit came in as the new CEO with a new sweeping brush, the 48-year-old is very much Schmidt’s pick for the role.

“Joe was coaching Bay of Plenty when I was coaching Wellington. And then he got the Bulls and I had the Sharks and we sort of crossed paths a few times,” he says.

“It will be new to me but then again I have watched them (Ireland) over the years. I’ve watched the team in the Six Nations and I know Irish teams have always been very tough to beat. Hopefully in the future we can make the side even tougher to beat.”

It will also be a clean break as well as a new start for Plumtree, who was reported to have been “hurt” by the manner in which he was let go in Durban at the end of June. The Sharks finished a poor 10th in the championship with a 50 per cent win rate and Plumtree found out through the media that Smit was to replace him in what was a public relations fiasco.

Verbal agreement
The Kiwi was also reported to have had had a verbal agreement with outgoing Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl that he would remain at the helm for at least the next two years.

Plumtree sought legal advice and threatened legal action against the franchise unless they kept to their part of the agreement. The matter was subsequently resolved.

“We will arrive in Ireland at the end of August,” he says. “But I know that what I want to do is carry on the good work of Gert Smal, the work he did over there, you know and what a good job he did on that recent tour.”

Plumtree said that following his five years at The Sharks, a New Zealand franchise and a couple of UK clubs had expressed interest in his services but that the Ireland position and the prospect of working with a highly successful coach like Schmidt, who has not just won domestically but at European level with Leinster, had been the most appealing option.

When Schmidt outlined the job as forwards coach, he was instantly interested and flew to Ireland last week for talks with the IRFU interview panel. He left satisfied and signed the contract yesterday.

The bulk
He is no stranger to the Northern Hemisphere as he has already worked in this side of the world when he coached Swansea between 1997-2001.

As a player he represented Taranaki and Hawkes Bay with the bulk of his career then being spent in Durban with Natal.

The Swansea job marked the beginning of the coaching and after a short spell as analyst with John Mitchell’s All Blacks he moved on to Wellington’s NPC side, which is where he interfaced with Schmidt, then with Bay of Plenty.

Both of Plumtree’s sons, who will be coming to Ireland where they will go to school, were born in Wales during that early stint.

He has had no international coaching experience but then, when Schmidt was brought to Ireland by Leinster from Clermont Auvergne he was very much an assistant to their head coach Vern Cotter.

But Plumtree has proven to be very capable of making tough decisions that have made his position uncomfortable. When he coached Smit at the Sharks he chose Bismarck du Plessis as first choice hooker, although Springbok captain Smit was in that position at national level.

The future
After being released from the Sharks he went to work for a short time on South African pay-channel SuperSport, which is where Plumtree may have had a glimpse of the future

“Who knows,” said the 2012 South African Coach of the Year. “Maybe I’ll come back here one day as coach of an overseas team.”