Smooth transition prevents disruption

It’s important for franchises to have a coaching succession plan, writes JOHN PLUMTREE.

I will replace Chris Boyd as Hurricanes head coach at the end of this Super Rugby season, having been his assistant coach for the past three years. This is a positive move for the franchise as it will ensure continuity and prevent the team from being disrupted by the appointment of a new head coach who hasn’t been part of the system.

That was the case when I left the Sharks in 2013 after a five-year stint as head coach (having been an assistant coach for two years before that). Neither Jake White nor Gary Gold had long stints as head coaches after me, while Brendan Venter was a consultant for only a short period as he didn’t want to commit full time to the union.

I believe the Sharks should have replaced me with my assistant, former Natal and Springbok fullback Hugh Reece-Edwards, who had been Sharks head coach before (in 2000) and had learned a lot from working under me. They also should have retained the services of my other assistant coach, Grant Bashford. Instead, they both lost their jobs and the Sharks effectively had to start from scratch.

Player retention and recruitment at the union suffered, as did the development of players at the academy, and I think John Smit, who was CEO at the time, has to take some responsibility for that. Those are the pillars for success at any union.

When Chris announced that he would be leaving the Hurricanes to join Northampton in England, there was no interview process for the soon-to-be vacant position. The Hurricanes and New Zealand Rugby believed I fulfilled all the criteria and also shoulder-tapped the players, who said they would like me to take over from Chris. I was never promised the position, but felt I had done a good job supporting Chris and would be his logical replacement.

I am a bit different to Chris as a coach, as he doesn’t look after a specific aspect of the game (like attack, defence, forwards or backs); he instead focuses on the team environment. When I do become head coach at the Hurricanes, I will continue to handle the team’s defence and rely on my manager to help run the team environment. I want to do on-field coaching and the off-field stuff. It’s important to make the players feel like they belong and add value, because that’s when you get the best out of them.

I have been given a three-year contract as Hurricanes head coach, which will take me to the end of the 2021 season, but I would like to stay at the franchise beyond that, if possible.

As far as my long-term coaching career is concerned, I would like to be part of the All Blacks at some stage. If that doesn’t happen, I would consider returning to coach in South Africa or look for a job in Japan. A lot will depend on my family. While my two older sons will have left home by then, my youngest will still be in high school.

For the foreseeable future, though, my focus will be firmly on the Hurricanes.

– This column first appeared in the May 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine. The June issue is on sale 21 May.

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John Plumtree