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'I've been impressed with the standard': Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree

The New Zealander is excited about the challenge ahead, saying we have “world-class” players.

Plumtree's most recent job was as head coach of the Sharks in South Africa.
Plumtree's most recent job was as head coach of the Sharks in South Africa.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND’S NEW FORWARDS coach John Plumtree says his first impressions of the players he will be working with have been good.

The Kiwi built his coaching reputation in South Africa, where powerful forwards are a plentiful breed but the 48-year-old is more than happy with the individuals he has seen so far in Ireland.

During his time as coach of the Natal Sharks, Plumtree was renowned for his expertise at the set piece and breakdown. Joe Schmidt will be hoping his fellow Kiwi can use those skills to ensure Ireland’s forwards provide quality possession for the high-tempo, passing style of rugby favoured by the head coach.

Last weekend’s training camp at Carton House was largely about getting to know the players, with very little on-pitch focus for the forwards. Plumtree’s input will increase as the November internationals approach, but for now he is happy just to have settled into his new role.

“I’ve really enjoyed it, meeting the players. Obviously, it’s been a massive two weeks for me since I’ve been in the country. I’ve got three boys and settling the family down has been the main priority.

“In between, looking at the clubs and then a few trips around Ireland have been good. I went down to Cork and up to Belfast and enjoyed those trips with the coaches. Just getting to know the players, shaking hands with them this week was great.”

Ireland have always had a depth of competition in the back row, but the developments in the second and front rows over the last two years have been very welcome. Plumtree says he is encouraged by the quality of players he hadn’t known too much about before accepting this job in the Irish set-up.

The Kiwi name checked the likes of Jack McGrath, Dave Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson as talents he will be keeping a close eye on, saying the latter looks like “a pretty good athlete.” The established players like Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and the “world-class” Sean O’Brien are far more familiar to Plumtree, and he claims to be relishing the opportunity to work with them.

One of the failings of the national set-up under Declan Kidney was a lack of direct communication from the top level down through the provinces. That looks set to change under Schmidt, with himself and Less Kiss already a visible presence at provincial training sessions on a number of occasions. Plumtree says he too will be working with the provincial sides, particularly to get a better understanding of the new scrum laws.

imageThe new coaching dream team of Kiss, Schmidt and Plumtree. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“I will be in touch with coaches, and I’ve already been in touch with one or two. But right now, I guess they’re feeling their way too, so the luxury I get is that it’s eight or nine rounds down the line before I get them [the forwards]. Hopefully things will settle down and we’ll have a good idea to expect with those areas of the game in November.”

The RaboDirect Pro12 is a league that Plumtree hasn’t had large amounts of previous exposure to during his time coaching in South Africa. However, the former Taranaki flanker says he has been pleasantly surprised by the ability on show in the opening rounds, and expects the returning Lions to add another level this weekend.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the standard of play. The big guns, I guess, are all coming back to play this week so the level of the play will go up a couple of notches as well.”

The Irish players have been understandably positive about what kind of impact they expect from their new forwards coach, despite not getting through much specific forwards training in Maynooth during the recent two-day camps. Plumtree has got the stamp of approval from none other than Paul O’Connell.

“We probably didn’t work as much with John as we will do coming up to the internationals, so it’s hard to know, but he has a great rugby CV, particularly having worked in Wellington and with the Sharks over the last number of years.”

Anything other than optimism at this stage would have been alarming, so it’s hard to read too much into these early statements. Plumtree’s first genuine tests come in November, when Ireland go up against the size of the Samoans, the beatable Australian forwards and the efficiency of New Zealand.

Known as an honest, open and highly-motivated character, Plumtree should combine well with Schmidt and Kiss. His biggest challenge is taking the excellent individuals he has highlighted and combining them into a formidable and successful pack.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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