Plumtree backs Muir’s youth brigade

John Plumtree, who has spent the last five years coaching the Wellington Lions to consistent success in New Zealand’s premier domestic competition, has rejoined his old teammate Dick Muir in Durban, ready to lead the young and exciting Sharks side to trophy-winning success.

Plumtree and Muir were both members of the successful Sharks side of the early 1990s, coached by Ian McIntosh, and Plumtree believes that this current squad can match the feats of that side.

Speaking to Plumtree said it is the youthful exuberance of the squad members that he feels will be one of the squad’s biggest assets.

“I can’t believe how young some of these guys are – but we have the necessary experience in guys like Percy Montgomery, AJ Venter and Warren Britz that can blend with this young and exciting talent,” Plumtree said.

After a couple of weeks of conditioning training, Plumtree says they have no major injuries to contend with, and things are looking up for the Durban outfit.

The other aspect that has stood out for Plumtree since his return to Durban is the vast differences between the rugby structures in New Zealand and those of South Africa.

“In New Zealand there is a lot more unity between the provincial coaches and the New Zealand Rugby Union [NZRU]. In South Africa one finds that there are personal agendas being pursued.”

He noted that it is the unity in New Zealand that allows for youth systems to spot talent at a schoolboy level and nurture it right through to senior fruition.

In the Wellington Lions setup, Plumtree cited the examples of Piri Weepu, Conrad Smith and Neemia Tialata as young players who were handled in such a way that they arrived on the national stage prepared for the rigours of international rugby.

He says that if the Sharks can develop their young stars into “real professional footballers”, then the Sharks could be an exciting prospect in next year’s Super 14.

Plumtree is excited at being back in the city he loves so much.

“I have a real passion for this team and for this community, and I want to put something back into the union which did so much for me.”

Other motivations for his return to Durban included his wife, who is South African, and the opportunity to give his young kids a taste for the Durban lifestyle.

The Sharks will open their campaign next year with a series of home games, which Plumtree sees as “crucial”.

“We have got to turn this place into the Colosseum. We need to make it really tough for sides coming to play here, especially if we are going to push on in the later stages of the competition.”

He says it’s great to be working with Muir again.

“We certainly have a lot of fun. There are always plenty of laughs, and that’s great in such a stressful industry as this.”

The Sharks surprised many by coming within a whisker of clinching a semi-final berth in this year’s Super 14, only losing on points difference to the Bulls, and it is unlikely that anyone is going to underestimate them in next year’s competition.

The addition of a coach like Plumtree, with a proven track record and a passion for his side, will stand them in good stead as they aim to become the first South African side to go all the way in Super rugby since the Lions (then Transvaal) in 1993.

By Chris Waldburger

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