Paul O'Connell and John Plumtree at Ireland training back in 2014. Billy Stickland/INPHO
Old friends

'I loved my time here and really enjoyed working with Paul in particular'

New Zealand forwards coach John Plumtree was with Ireland for the 2013/14 season.

JOHN PLUMTREE AND the All Blacks are just back in the door from the Guinness Storehouse when the forwards coach jumps onto Zoom for a chat with members of the media back at home in New Zealand and here in Ireland.

The affable Kiwi only had a season as part of the Ireland coaching staff under Joe Schmidt after joining in September 2013 but he remembers that time in Dublin with fondness.

His sons went to Blackrock College – 21-year-old Taine is now a rising star in Kiwi rugby – while Plumtree boosted his reputation by helping Ireland towards the 2014 Six Nations title before returning to New Zealand to join the Hurricanes.

Plumtree subsequently balanced his assistant coach gig with the Canes and a role as Japan’s forwards coach for two years before the Wellington-based franchise appointed him as head coach in 2019.

And last year, Plumtree was brought into Ian Foster’s All Blacks set-up as the forwards specialist, with another former Ireland assistant, scrum coach Greg Feek, alongside him.

Paul O’Connell was one of his players back in 2013/14 but now Plumtree is facing off against the former Ireland lock in the battle of the forwards coaches this weekend as the All Blacks take on Andy Farrell’s team in Dublin.

“It’s a few years ago now but it’s good to see him passing on all his knowledge to some of those young fellas in the forward pack, I’m sure they’re really enjoying him,” says Plumtree.

“I loved my short time here and really enjoyed working with the Irish forward pack and Paul in particular. I see Cian Healy’s there, Iain Henderson, so there’s a few of the boys that I was coaching back in the day there. It will be good to catch up with them afterwards.”

john-plumtree Plumtree joined the All Blacks last year. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

One of Plumtree’s first games with Ireland was the infamous 2013 clash with the All Blacks when Ryan Crotty’s late try and Aaron Cruden’s conversion broke Irish hearts.

“I remember that game very vividly,” says Plumtree. “Greg Feek and I talk about it a bit. The week before we got absolutely belted by the Australians and I think the All Blacks probably came to the Aviva Stadium that day thinking we weren’t that good.

“Our preparation that week, we were pretty annoyed with how we played against the Australians that weekend and had a great build-up. The All Blacks were finishing their northern tour as well that week and being part of that Irish group it was pretty primed to do a job.

“We played some pretty good footy in the first half. Second half we didn’t play quite as well and I think our bench wasn’t as good as we felt it might have been and Johnny [Sexton] missed a crucial penalty that probably would have nailed it and that gave the All Blacks a bit of hope and belief.

“The last few minutes of that game was pretty frantic and I can remember a penalty being awarded, a quick tap and next minute Dane Coles had put Ryan Crotty into a hole and they scored. And that was it.

“It was a pretty tough one, I was annoyed after that. There’s nothing like coaching against the All Blacks and doing well but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

“One thing I do remember was Steve Hansen coming up to me after that game and asking would it be OK to come into the Irish changing-room to have a word to the boys.

greg-feek-john-plumtree-and-scott-mcleod-celebrate-with-ian-foster-with-the-bledisloe-cup-after-the-game The All Blacks coaching team. Photosport / Stuart Walmsley/INPHO Photosport / Stuart Walmsley/INPHO / Stuart Walmsley/INPHO

“He said, ‘Listen boys, bad luck tonight but just use this as fuel to kick on for a really good Six Nations.’ We went on and did really well and won it so it was a good launching pad for us that year.”

Ireland finally beat the All Blacks for the first time three years later, while they have a win in Dublin in 2018 under their belts too. However, the most meaningful and most recent clash between these sides in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final saw Ireland hammered.

Whatever about that clash, Plumtree doesn’t think Ireland will have any fear of the All Blacks this week.

“I’m not sure they’ll fear us, mate. Ireland will believe that they can beat us. That will be based on how they played last week and their preparation this week. We understand that as an All Black team and that’s what excites us as well.”

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