John Plumtree was spot on in his assessments ahead of this Saturday’s 100th Test between South Africa and New Zealand. The Boks will be “dangerous”, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Plumtree, the former Sharks coach and player, has always had a presence about him.
When I was starting out as a sports journalist, my first few years on the job involved covering the Sharks as my primary beat in Durban, which coincided with Plumtree taking over from Dick Muir as head coach.
I’ll never forget an occasion during one pre-season where Plumtree invited a host of former players to watch a trial match in order to take some of their assessments and insights into consideration before squad selection.
Legendary former lock Mark Andrews was among those present, and naturally he kept a close eye on a youngster by the name of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was just starting out at the Sharks.
At one point, Plumtree leaned across to Andrews and made a light-hearted quip that went something along the lines of: “Hey Mark, keep a close eye on Pieter-Steph, I reckon he has the potential to be much better than you were.”
It was all just a bit of banter, but Plumtree always did have a keen eye for talent, and was one of the most popular and highly respected coaches to do duty in Durban.
When Plumtree was rather unceremoniously jettisoned from the job during a period where the Sharks underwent restructuring, it effectively served as the catalyst for the former hard-as-nails forward to depart the South African coaching scene and move into the overseas market.
After stints in Ireland and Japan, he eventually settled back in his home country of New Zealand, and is now a key member of the All Blacks coaching group.
And if New Zealand continue to promote from within their coaching ranks, it won’t be at all surprising if Plumtree eventually serves as the All Blacks head coach one day.
Again, Plumtree has always had a presence about him, boasting a balance between being approachable, while also commanding the authority of an incredibly astute coach.
After a career as both a player and coach in South Africa, he has also a very keen appreciation for what makes players tick in this part of the world.
It’s the reason why his comments this week are particularly relevant. Plumtree will be sharing these insights with the All Blacks, particularly during his meetings with the forwards, and he is dead right when he suggests the Boks will stick to playing to their strengths this Saturday, and that “there’s a lot of heat coming”.
“That physicality [of the Boks] is everything … it comes naturally to them … in my time at the Sharks we didn’t play that simple plan we’re seeing at the moment. We played a more extravagant style of rugby and it was why we had some success against overseas teams.
“Their game has changed now again, and it suits them. It’s more of a bully mentality around contestable kicks, really aggressive defence, and forward play around scrummaging and mauling that suits their DNA.
“We know there’s a lot of heat coming and we’ve got to be able to deal with that. And when it comes to these two teams the form book gets thrown out the window. There’s so much respect for each other’s games, what’s happened the last couple of weeks really doesn’t matter.”
Plumtree has made it clear that the All Blacks want to maintain a high-tempo, skills-based style of play, but that an onus has been placed on the forwards to ensure they match the Springboks up front, and disrupt the Boks’ linespeed on defence by keeping the South African players “on the back foot”.
However, he also laughed off any suggestion that the Springboks would be easy-beats after suffering humbling back-to-back losses to Australia.
Again, pay attention to Plumtree’s insights. They may turn out to be rather prophetic.
“They [the Boks] will be hurting a lot. They’re a very proud rugby nation. They’ll have a little bit of a corral mentality, especially when their own media and fans start getting stuck into the Springboks. That’s when they became an even more dangerous animal.
“It’s too late for them to change the way they want to play – that just wouldn’t make sense, but they’ll be looking at the areas that are letting them down and have given them success.
“Their kicking game is a real weapon for them; their forward play, defensive linespeed … We saw how good they were at the World Cup around those parts of the game, so that’s what they’ll go back to.”
Plumtree is spot on.
There won’t be any flash from the Springboks this Saturday. They will be physical and fired up. And although many might expect a one-sided outcome in favour of the hosts, I’d suspect Plumtree will be reminding the All Blacks to expect a fierce backlash from the Boks, and a closely fought end result.
“To be involved in a game like this is a dream come true for me,” he mentioned. “I get a lot of messages from South Africa and New Zealand when we do well, so I’m caught in the middle of it all but there’s only one team I want to win this weekend.”