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Why Plumtree works for Foster

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Why John Plumtree might swing the All Blacks' coaching ticket in Foster's favour

John Plumtree’s become something of an intriguing figure.

Not so long ago, word was the Hurricanes coach had no interest in an All Blacks’ role. At least not if that role was assistant coach.

Plumtree only wanted the top job but here is now, about to potentially become deputy to Ian Foster. A lot must have changed then.

Back when the 54-year-old was first connected to the job, the view was it was mischievously. As the All Blacks cast about for someone to replace the irreplaceable Wayne Smith on their coaching staff, Plumtree and Scott McLeod were mentioned in dispatches.

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The Hurricanes’ view was that the job as All Blacks defence coach was being given to McLeod, with Plumtree’s name offered up to one or two media types to create the illusion of contestability.

Besides, Plumtree reportedly wasn’t desperate to work with Steve Hansen and Ian Foster. Plus he had a gentlemen’s agreement to succeed Chris Boyd as Hurricanes’ head coach.

Plumtree duly assumed that Hurricanes’ position, while retaining his previous role as defence coach. That was the other thing about those alleged All Blacks overtures; some felt it was an insult to Plumtree that his defensive expertise were mentioned in the same breath as the comparatively unproven McLeod.

Isn’t it funny how things work out? Assuming Foster is named All Blacks head coach, McLeod’s on his ticket too as defence coach, with Plumtree’s rumoured portfolio to be the forward pack.

Defensive systems are Plumtree’s passion, but he’s obviously a pragmatist as well. Rightly or wrongly, continuity has become New Zealand Rugby’s favoured method of appointing coaches and Plumtree has clearly worked out that the quickest route to the top All Blacks’ job is a successful stint as the dutiful deputy.

That’s the obvious end goal here for Plumtree. Of all the people whose hats are said to be in the ring to become a head or assistant coach, none have his pedigree. Or anything close.

The only thing Plumtree lacks on his CV is time in the All Blacks’ environment, because he’s done pretty much everything else.

Depending on who you talk to, it was Plumtree rather than Boyd, who was the chief architect of the Hurricanes’ run to the 2016 Super Rugby title. Before that he’d taken the Sharks to a Super final and he’s supplemented his provincial and franchise successes with stints as an assistant coach to Joe Schmidt at Ireland and under Jamie Joseph with Japan.

He’s an ambitious and impressive guy who knows coaching and knows the rugby landscape. Players play for him too, which is something Plumtree has in common with Foster’s main rival Scott Robertson.

Robertson, a three-time Super Rugby title winner with the Crusaders, presents a pretty compelling case of his own. But if this comes down to a contest between his own likely assistants – Jason Holland and Jason Ryan – and Foster’s, then Foster’s trio wins. Not least because of Plumtree, who’s the best-qualified person of them all.

Still, it says a lot about New Zealand Rugby, and their methods, that Plumtree feels he has to serve an apprenticeship under Foster before he can chase the All Blacks’ job in his own right.

It should make for an interesting next couple of years.

The Season with Hamilton Boys High School – Episode 5:

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Why John Plumtree might swing the All Blacks' coaching ticket in Foster's favour