John Plumtree turned 50 during his first season as assistant coach of the Hurricanes.


By then he’d won provincial titles as a head coach in both Wales and South Africa and guided Wellington to NPC finals. Plumtree took the Sharks to a Super Rugby decider as well, before helping Joe Schmidt coach Ireland.

The man was seasoned and successful, with a broad knowledge of rugby around the world.

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The Hurricanes have now replaced him with Cory Jane, just as Carlos Spencer took Chris Boyd’s place on the coaching staff ahead of the 2019 season.

Jane is an immensely capable and likeable character and was certainly a fine player. But at 36, and less than three years removed from his last game as a Hurricane, pretty green in coaching terms.


No-one doubts that Jane is smart or that he won’t strike a rapport with the players, it’s just Super Rugby seems an odd place to serve your coaching apprenticeship. Especially when, with Plumtree now on the All Blacks’ staff, Jason Holland will be head coach of a team for the very first time.

It’s a far cry from five years ago when Boyd and Plumtree rolled into town.

For fear of offending people, you do have to labour the point that Jane does appear competent. As for Spencer? Who knows? But between that pair and Holland you do have three men with a very similar area of expertise and fairly limited coaching experience.


Holland was probably always a head coach in the making, you just assumed his first appointment of that sort wouldn’t come at quite this level.

In the case of Jane and Spencer, it again shows the value of being a name player and makes you wonder what all the career coaches out there think of these appointments.

Men such as Boyd, who’s now doing an excellent job at Northampton, but wanted to stay at the Hurricanes.

How good would it be if he were still at the helm, developing the team’s plans for life after Beauden Barrett and grooming Holland to be the next head coach.

It’s not so long ago that many New Zealand rugby fans were set on Joe Schmidt. The man had worked wonders in Ireland, they cried, and must succeed Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach.

Only Schmidt could’ve worked all those wonders here. He probably even wanted to.

It’s just that he didn’t have a great name as a player and, worse still, he then spent years coaching kids. Kids?! No serious rugby coach hones their skills with first XV or club players. Not the famous ones anyway. No, they pretty much start at Super level.

Had it not been for Vern Cotter, and an offer to come work in France, Schmidt might have been fondly remembered by the boys he coached at various schools, but largely unknown by everyone else.

Jane didn’t appoint himself. Nor Spencer. And it’s not their fault that Boyd or Cotter or Dave Rennie or whoever else ends up having to coach overseas, but Super Rugby coaching in New Zealand has become something of a young man’s game.

Yes, Warren Gatland’s got the Chiefs’ job now, but he’d have taken it a long time ago if he could’ve.

Overall, though, you look at the head and assistant coaches across this country’s franchises and it’s a far cry from the days when Graham Henry, Laurie Mains, Tony Gilbert, Gordon Hunter, Frank Oliver and Peter Sloane were around. Sure, it was a different era with rather different pathways, but coaches tended to come to those jobs with proven methods and varied life and rugby experiences.

Scott Robertson, who arrived at the Crusaders via the Sumner club and various roles with Canterbury, has been a conspicuous Super Rugby coaching success, but most of his peers are yet to demonstrate or develop quite the same ability to coordinate campaigns. Funny then that, despite winning three Super titles in succession, Robertson’s already talking about the need to seek more experience overseas.

To, in other words, go and do what Plumtree did before he was considered worthy of a Super Rugby assistant’s job in New Zealand.

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