John Plumtree might be Taranaki born and bred, be a former All Blacks video analyst and have coached Wellington for five years, but he has Sharks blood running through his veins.
The mentor of the Durban-based Sharks team that take on the Chiefs in tonight's Super Rugby final has had a long association with South Africa's Natal province.
"I love this team - they've been my passion since I was 21, the Sharks," said Plumtree, who has won the Currie Cup for Natal as both a player and coach.
After retiring as a player he spent five years coaching Swansea in Wales, had six years back coaching in New Zealand before returning to South Africa and his beloved Sharks in 2006, the first year as assistant coach to Dick Muir and then as head coach ever since.
"This has been the happiest three weeks of my rugby career; just the way I've seen this team respond to this type of adversity.
"You go to the Reds [in Brisbane] and there's 35,000 people there and there's no-one screaming for you and you go down to Newlands and there's 50-odd thousand there and you come out on top. It's just been fantastic.
"And I'm sure tomorrow night's going to be equally as memorable either way."
He has coached a final in Hamilton before, his last act before going back to South Africa was his Wellington team losing to Waikato in the 2006 ITM Cup final.
But Plumtree has been there done that. So does he get on edge before such a big final any more? Neither team has won the Super Rugby title before but this is the Sharks' fourth trip to a final.
"I've been here before so many times now. I think this is my eighth final - three NPC, three Currie Cup and this is my second Super 15 one - as a coach so I've had a lot of this type of experience.
"But tomorrow I'll wake up pretty nervous, with some nice butterflies, but really excited too. There's something about this team."
Plumtree and several of his senior players have bitter memories of a 2007 20-19 loss to the Bulls.
"It was shattering - something that'll never heal.
"I just remember getting in my Chevy V8 and driving to a place 20 minutes out of Durban in about 12 minutes and cruising home. I was lucky I didn't die.
"I was just so unbelievably devastated for everyone in Natal. We had that game wrapped up."
One thing Plumtree's Sharks will have to overcome is penetrating the Chiefs' much improved defence if they are to score tries.
They have not managed to do that since 2009, with their points in the last three games against the Chiefs all coming from kicks.
"But we've scored lots of others. We know we're going to have to work really hard to get over the line," Plumtree said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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