Outgoing Sharks coach John Plumtree could soon be named as the forwards coach in the new Ireland set-up under Joe Schmidt, according to a well placed South African source.
The Kiwi would join Les Kiss (defence) as the third main coach in the operation where Schmidt will look after the backs/attack himself. It remains to be seen if Plumtree is expected to coach the scrum, but given that he was a back row forward through a playing career that took him from Taranaki to Natal it’s unlikely he would be able to fill that role at Test level.
Schmidt has spent much of his time, since succeeding Declan Kidney in April, figuring out a new coaching staff. Retaining Les Kiss was seemingly straightforward and when the new head coach went back to New Zealand for a few weeks after the North America tour it was as much about finding a forwards’ coach as having a holiday back home.
An IRFU source said there were at least three people on Schmidt’s shortlist, but wouldn’t confirm that Plumtree spent a couple of days in Dublin last week. A source in South Africa is certain that the Shark is Ireland’s man.
Plumtree (48) will bring a raft of experience to the job, albeit very little of it at international level. As a player he represented Taranaki and Hawkes Bay with the bulk of his career then being spent in Durban with Natal. He started coaching in 1997, with Swansea, and after a short spell as analyst with John Mitchell’s All Blacks he moved on to Wellington’s NPC side at a time when Schmidt was with the Bay of Plenty.
He returned to the Sharks in 2007, as assistant, and then took over the top job a year later, remaining there until June of this year when he left having been told his contract would not be renewed next season. Plumtree’s exit – he was named coach of the year in South Africa in 2012 – may have as much to do with the arrival of former Springbok captain John Smit as chief executive of the organisation, as the coach’s performance on the field. When Plumtree coached Smit at the club he chose Bismarck du Plessis as hooker ahead of the Springbok captain. Brendan Venter will be director of rugby at the Sharks next season.
Clearly Plumtree had struggled this season, and the Sharks – having been tipped to lead South Africa’s challenge pre-tournament – missed out on the play-offs managing only a 50 per cent win rate in a campaign blighted by injuries to key players and rumours of unrest in the changing room.
In his five seasons with the Sharks he brought them to four Currie Cup finals, two of which were won, and one Super Rugby decider.
The ideal result for Schmidt would have been to unearth a front rower who could coach the scrum as well as the forward pack as a whole, making for a streamlined operation.
It remains to be seen what road he will travel on the scrummaging issue, and the role of kicking coach has yet to be filled as well.