The Ospreys host the Sharks in London this weekend in the United Rugby Championship (URC), a fixture that will bring back fond memories for John Plumtree.
The Sharks boss spent almost five years as coach of Swansea RFC until late 2001, winning two league titles and the Welsh Cup.
After that stint, Plumtree has worked in his homeland of New Zealand with the Hurricanes and the All Blacks, as well as in South Africa, Ireland and Japan.
Now he is back for a second spell in charge of the Durban-based Sharks, the team he also represented during his playing days. That sees him taking on the Ospreys at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night – the first time a URC match has been staged in London. It’s a fixture that really resonates with him.
Time at Ospreys and son Taine
“The Ospreys are close to my heart, having coached Swansea for five years, in my first job,” said Plumtree, speaking at a URC round table.
“I have got a lot of fantastic Welsh friends. You think back to that team I had. I was a first-up coach and pretty green. I was a pretty green Plumtree, if you like!
“I was a young coach. I had one player, in Paul Moriarty, who was only a year older than me and I was coaching him. I was blessed to have so many great Welsh internationals in that team, people like Scott Gibbs, Colin Charvis, Mark Taylor, Garin Jenkins, Arwel Thomas. I was pretty lucky to be able to coach a team with that calibre of player.
“I made a lot of friends there, and two of my sons were born there at Singleton Hospital. I loved it. It was a great first up job for me and I learned heaps. I loved those days. It was so tribal against Neath, Llanelli, and Bridgend. It was a good time to coach there. Welsh rugby was really strong. The Wales team was strong, too. Graham Henry was there for a period when I was there. It was good times. I really enjoyed it.”
One of his Swansea-born sons, Taine, is now playing in Wales for the Scarlets – having moved over from New Zealand – and the 23-year-old flanker made his Test debut for the Welsh national team over the summer.
“I wanted him to come to the Sharks, but as soon as Warren Gatland got involved, it was all over; he was heading for Wales,” said Plumtree Snr. “I am really proud of him. He has had two or three years of background at the Blues (in Auckland), which has been good for his development. He is loving it at the Scarlets. He loves the Welsh people, and he is happy. So if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
A new Sharks way
Now 58, Plumtree is bringing all his experience to bear at the Sharks, some 11 years on from his last stint in charge of the South African outfit.
“I’ve been blessed to travel around different parts of the world, and I’ve taken something from everyone and everywhere, every club, every country,” he said. “You develop relationships when you are in this business we are lucky to be in. That’s why I love it so much.
“It’s been great to be back at the Sharks. We have changed a lot of things in a short space of time. We have talked about what we need to do to be better, and the players seem to be really positive and enjoying what I’m calling a new Sharks way.
“The key thing for me is the players love turning up for work, love what we are doing and hopefully that will be portrayed on the field. I am loving it, and I hope they are loving me!”
Looking ahead to the meeting with the Ospreys at the home of Harlequins, Plumtree said: “It’s great to bring the BKT URC to London and hopefully we will get a good crowd there. There are a lot of ex-pats in that part of the world, so it’s going to be great.
“I am sure both sides will play a pretty positive brand of footie. Probably, in the last two or three years, the Sharks have played a bit too conservatively for me, and we are trying to find a better balance between attack and defence. We want to play a bit more positively and slightly more ambitious.”