Super Rugby

Smit : Sacking Plumtree was a colossal stuff up




Former Sharks CEO John Smit has admitted that the manner in which Sharks coach John Plumtree was let go was a “colossal stuff up” and should have been handled differently.

The former Sharks and Springboks captain has now left his position with the Sharks after three years in charge and has revealed some of his regrets.

“I was inexperienced,” Smit says of his appointment in July 2013.

“I knew almost nothing about finance and going from the change room to the boardroom was very challenging. But I feel can hold my head high. There is no degree in the world that could have given me the education that I have had over the last three years.

“And going in cold was possibly to my benefit. Had I known a little, I might not have asked the questions I did,” he reflects.

“But because I was so ignorant I questioned anything and everything as I worked my way through the various departments at Sharks HQ. And changes had to be made. A lot of streamlining has been made. Budgets have been cut, including the player bill.

“There has been a lot of freshening up. There has been a need to regenerate, and this is by no means a criticism of my predecessor. Brian (van Zyl) did a huge amount of good, and he should be proud of that. I am just saying that the Sharks were entering a new cycle when I came in and I hopefully have been able to invigorate the business.”

The thirty-eight-year-old admits that he would have handled the sacking of John Plumtree very differently if he had the benefit of hindsight.

“With hindsight, I would have done things differently,” Smit told The Mercury.

“I would have saved everybody a lot of pain if I had told Plum that he would have another season as coach while I found a successor, because I felt that we needed to freshen up the coaching after Plum had been in charge for a long time.

“Plum had asked for a one-year extension before I took charge and that might have helped had that been granted.

“I got it wrong in that Plum found out in the media. That was not the plan and when (former Bok coach) Nick Mallett had said in the press that he was not interested in coaching the Sharks and was focused on his position as an analyst with SuperSport, Plum was incensed. ”

“I recall trying to talk to him after a Sharks training session towards the end of the 2013 Super Rugby season and he was so furious that he would not make eye contact with me as he stormed off. I understand why he was so angry. I would have liked to have spoken to him about a coaching succession plan, but we never got to have that conversation. It was a colossal stuff-up.”

Plumtree left Durban and was an assistant with the Ireland national team but two years ago returned to New Zealand where as an assistant coach with the Hurricanes he has helped the team to two Super Rugby finals and this season to their first title.

Smit said that he had been so impressed with Brendan Venter during his time at Saracens so he wanted him involved as much as possible. Venter joined the Sharks and immediately won the Currie Cup, but Venter did not want to continue as coach.

“My plan had been to convince Brendan to accept a long-term coaching position at the Sharks. I had experienced his coaching at Saracens (in London) and I thought he was the way forward. He had so many new ideas. But I could not convince him to commit to us full-time. ”

“He is very passionate about his medical practice and could not change his mind.”

While the Sharks were going through a change in coaching the then Brumbies coach Jake White missed out on coaching Australia so he quit his position in Canberra and was snapped up by the Durban Super Rugby franchise.

White’s time in Durban with the Sharks promised much but ultimately his term with the Sharks ended unhappily.

White inherited some backroom coaching staff that he did not rate highly. He did not have confidence in Brad Macleod-Henderson and Sean Everitt and became increasingly autocratic.

“If I had hired Jake with the assistance he wanted, things might have been different.”

“There were two camps – the youngsters plus the black players that Jake was giving opportunities to, and then the seniors, who did not enjoy him one bit.”

The Sharks did well in Super Rugby under White but Smit said that he had to act before things blew up in Durban.

“Jake was doing a good rugby job, but he was beating people up along the way. He was alienating just about everyone. I told him he could not continue. The John Mitchell effect was fast approaching, in terms of a player revolt.

“The senior players were fed up with Jake treating them like schoolboys. The situation was becoming untenable, and I think he was more relieved than me when we parted ways.

“Jake’s treatment of some of the players was regrettable. Keegan Daniel went from holding the Currie Cup at the end of 2013 to being treated like a leper.”

On the Sharks potential move across the road to the newer Moses Mabhida Stadium Smit said “One of the stadiums has to go. Will it be Kings Park, that is in need of repair, or Moses Mabhida?” Smit asked. “Either way, there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge before a decision is made.”

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