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'Not quite sure what he learned': Plumtree on Sexton connection

By Tom Vinicombe
Johnny Sexton tackled by Ryan Crotty. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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John Plumtree may be assistant coach of the All Blacks now but the NZ native first cut his teeth in international rugby with Ireland from 2013 to 2014.

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During that period, Plumtree was on hand to witness one gut-wrenching loss against the men in black, when Ireland were pipped at the post and suffered a 24-22 loss, despite leading 22-7 at halftime.

The two-year period for which Plumtree was involved was still a successful one for the Irish, however, with the side suffering just six defeats in Joe Schmidt’s first two campaigns in charge.

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That was also the period when Johnny Sexton well and truly entrenched himself as the nation’s first-choice flyhalf, with Ronan O’Gara retiring from test rugby 2013 after notching up 128 appearances.

Speaking to media earlier this week, Sexton suggested that Plumtree’s addition to the All Blacks coaching ranks had helped fortify the defence.

“We know what quality they possess, we know their coaches quite well having been coached by Greg Feek and John Plumtree before, we know the strengths they are going to bring,” Sexton said. “We just have to make sure we were in the best place possible come Saturday.”

Plumtree was appreciative of the praise but admitted he’d not had too much to do with Sexton himself during his days coaching Ireland.

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“It’s nice of Johnny Sexton to say something nice about me, but I was looking after the forwards and he was in the backs, so not quite sure what he learned,” Plumtree joked.

“I got on well with Johnny. He’s a good man, great competitor. Certainly an experienced campaigner and someone that will have a real calming influence over the rest of that Irish team, so looking forward to seeing him.”

While Plumtree and Feek will have some inside knowledge on some of the players in the Ireland squad, Ireland have their own secret weapons to call upon in the forms of Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe, who were both raised in New Zealand before heading offshore later in their professional careers.

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At the end of the day, however, Plumtree says that any ‘inside knowledge’ will be relatively useless come gameday.

“Those guys know our players,” he said. “Some of them have played a lot of rugby together and, from what I’ve read, they went to similar schools. There’s some good knowledge alright, but, at the end of the day, they don’t know how we play and what our plan is, how we train, how we prepare, how we’re going to play against them.

“They’ll have a little bit of knowledge from what they’ve seen and maybe a little bit of history on some individuals, but, ultimately, at the end of the day, our plan is our plan and they won’t know it.”

Ireland and the All Blacks will square off at Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The game will mark the first time the teams have faced one another since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and the first time in Dublin since Ireland triumphed 16-9 in 2018.

This weekend’s game kicks off at 3:15pm GMT.

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