Forwards coach John Plumtree looks to start new role on the front foot
Forwards coach insists Ireland must 'confront' Samoans
MUCH has been made of the newness of Ireland's coaching ticket this autumn, but in truth there is only one man in Carton House who the players are truly meeting for the first time.
Joe Schmidt is a familiar face to all, Les Kiss and Mick Kearney are part of the furniture and Richie Murphy and Greg Feek are all well established in Irish rugby circles. Only forwards coach John Plumtree had to introduce himself when the squad gathered for the first time.
It takes a certain type of man to lead an international forward pack and, on first impressions, the New Zealander who made his home in South Africa fits the bill. Standing well over six feet tall, the former Natal Sharks coach's cauliflower ears are worn like a badge of honour.
He speaks in hushed tones, with an intensity and seriousness about a topic that will dominate his life for the next few weeks.
"I've got my role to play in the team and as I get more confident and get to know everyone I'm just hoping that I can add more, but right now it's just about sorting things out. There's new terminology to learn and the players we've got with Joe and everything's new with me," he explained.
"Once I settle down and get to know a little more, everyone's strengths and weaknesses and personalities, then it will be a lot easier for me and everyday I'm getting a step closer, which is easier for me."
While Plumtree has been feeling his way into the new set-up, the players have been doing the same with him. It appears it is his work around the line-out and the maul that has separated him from the previous regime's efforts, an area that started strongly under Gert Smal but declined as the Declan Kidney era went on.
"We've got a good line-out but we know that individually everyone has to perform their role perfectly," he explained. "At times the problem is you get a guy that does a poor lift or a poor jump or a poor throw and that let's everyone down.
"So it's just been making sure everyone understands that when they perform their role, if they execute their role that they have to do it perfectly if we want that line-out to function.
"We want to assemble a drive and everyone has to put their head in the right place and understand what they need to do and fight their individual battles, that's something we've really been focusing on in the last eight, nine days."
Having coached at NPC level in his native New Zealand, and Currie Cup and Super 15 in Durban, Plumtree has taken the sideways step from club head coach to international assistant to gain experience of the Test environment.
"For me it was an opportunity to coach at a higher level and be involved in a new competition up here in the Six Nations, getting the opportunity to travel and play Test rugby," he said.
"The Six Nations and being involved in Test-match rugby is a box I haven't ticked and I'm really enjoying this opportunity right now. I'm really excited ahead of Samoa and I probably won't be able to sleep on Friday night."
Saturday's meeting with Samoa will be his introduction to the fray and, having watched the Pacific islanders in action during the summer when they played the Springboks, Italy and Scotland in South Africa, he knows that his Ireland forwards will have their mettle tested at Lansdowne Road.
"You can't avoid that confrontation," he said. "It's in your face, but I don't think that'll be a problem for the Irish boys, they're renowned for that. They're physical and tough.
"For the people who come to the stadium at the weekend, we want to play a style of game that they enjoy. That's hugely important and for the players the Joe Schmidt style of rugby is something they enjoy.
"To do that, we need quick ball and that needs confrontation. With their big ball carriers, there is going to have to be big tackles going in to stop them. So it will be a big test for us."