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The Plumtree debate

  • 18 Jun 2013 asked HSM sports editorial director GARY LEMKE and junior sports writer GARETH DUNCAN: Have the Sharks made the right move by not renewing John Plumtree’s contract?


I’ve never been a fan of changing the coach as a knee-jerk reaction to poor results and a trophy drought. Chelsea do it but Arsenal don't and I'm a fan of the way the Arsenal board operates. Arsene Wenger has gone eight years without silverware but remains a coach of the highest order and sends out a team who play with pride and energy.

John Plumtree is also a top coach, but – even if reports have been denied – one gets the impression he has ‘lost the dressing room’ and change was needed. There are many things that conspired against him, including a squad crippled by injury, but the signs were there. The Sharks were simply playing badly, looking devoid of ideas and appeared to be going through the motions.

The 0-0 scoreline at half-time against the Stormers at the beginning of March was a result of turgid rugby and suggested both the Sharks and the Stormers needed to start looking within, at the coaching staff, for improvement. And then Jake White’s Brumbies arrived in Durban. They looked sensational for the first 40 minutes, running into a 25-3 lead on the way to a facile victory, but when the Kings fought back to draw 28-28 with the Brumbies three weeks later in Canberra, it showed what a side can achieve when well-coached and the spirit is high.

Then came Plumtree’s ‘rift’ with Ryan Kankowski and talk of a ‘Dutchmen’ element in the Sharks camp.

Plumtree this season has resembled John Mitchell at the Lions, desperate to turn the corner but unable to. When John Smit arrived, he had to make a statement as incoming CEO. That statement was to jettison Plumtree, someone he had played under.

I don’t pretend to know what has gone on within the walls of the Sharks dressing room, but I have seen enough from their season’s performances to know that all hasn’t been well in the camp. And when a coach ‘loses the dressing room' it’s no reflection on his character or ability. It’s just a sign that it’s his time to move on.


John Plumtree has been one of the key role-players behind the Sharks’ growth in recent years. While they have disappointed in this season’s Super Rugby campaign, one shouldn’t overlook the progress they have made since Plumtree’s appointment in 2008. Under the Kiwi coach, the Sharks claimed Currie Cup triumphs in 2008 and 2010, and qualified for three consecutive major finals (2011 Currie Cup, 2012 Super Rugby and 2012 Currie Cup).

The Sharks were touted as South Africa’s best bet for the 2013 Super Rugby title, and could have lived up to that billing with a full-strength squad. However, they lost several key players to injury, including Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Anton Bresler, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Tim Whitehead, Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen and Cobus Reinach. With so many experienced players across important positions unavailable for selection, it’s no surprise they have struggled.

The Sharks' new regime is exciting and will help to freshen things up at the union, but why not hold on to a coach who already has a relationship with the squad? Yes, there seems to have been a fallout between Plumtree and Ryan Kankowski, but there’s no clear evidence that he has 'lost the dressing room'.

With John Smit as CEO and Brendan Venter as director of rugby, Plumtree (who won the 2012 SA Coach of the Year award) could have been the settled member who helped take the Sharks to new heights. After all, the Sharks don’t need to reinvent the wheel – they’ve made enough exciting changes that will help create a strong platform from which the team can start winning trophies consistently. With a new coach soon to be named, expect talk of a ‘rebuilding phase’, which could last a couple of years.

Photo: Sabelo Mngoma/BackpagePix

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