Mitchell is the plain and sim­ple suc­ces­sor to the Ed­die Jones era

Satur­day Com­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

SO ED­DIE JONES rode into Cape Town pledg­ing to rev­o­lu­tionise the Storm­ers, and just 14 days later, as Western Prov­ince pres­i­dent Th­elo Wake­field hu­mor­ously put it yes­ter­day, the Ed­die Jones era is now over.

The chances of Jones stick­ing around were al­ways fairly re­mote. As I wrote two weeks ago, I had it on the au­thor­ity of ex­cel­lent UK-based sources that Jones was the RFU’s tar­get as the next Eng­land coach.

There is no one to blame for what tran­spired. In fact, if you want to blame any­one for the fact that Jones joins Ger­rie Son­nekus – who lasted just a few days in the Spring­bok job be­fore be­ing sacked – as one of the briefest coach­ing ap­point­ments, why not just add it to the list of the many things Heyneke Meyer gets blamed for.

Had Ja­pan not beaten the Boks at the World Cup, Jones would not have gained the cache he did among the Eng­land rugby-sup­port­ing pub­lic, me­dia and of­fi­cial­dom. Lest it be for­got­ten, the Aus­tralian was un­der­stood to have been hounded out of con­tin­u­ing with Ja­pan by an un­happy player group be­fore the World Cup started, and he didn’t leave the Wal­la­bies, Sara­cens or the Reds on the hap­pi­est of terms ei­ther.

Per­haps Jones could have been more open with WP di­rec­tor of rugby Gert Smal when he was asked if there had been ap­proaches from Eng­land, but who is ever happy to di­vulge in­for­ma­tion about an ap­proach from an al­ter­na­tive em­ployer? Un­til a deal had been fi­nalised, Jones had to re­main com­mit­ted to his cur­rent em­ploy­ers.

Jones, ac­cord­ing to Smal, was con­trite and apolo­getic when he bade his farewells but af­ter work­ing for so many years in the game, Smal will know bet­ter than any­one that those who bow to the myth of loy­alty in pro­fes­sional rugby only risk sell­ing them­selves short.

Had Jones re­mained com­mit­ted to the Storm­ers, and bombed out and WP had sacked him, where would the loy­alty be then? He’d have lost his chance with Eng­land and be un­em­ployed. I’m not say­ing it would have hap­pened, but it could. It is just the way with pro­fes­sional sport.

The fo­cus will now switch to who WP will pin­point to step into the void, but re­ally there shouldn’t be any ar­gu­ment. If I was asked to draw up a shortlist of three coaches to com­pete for the job, the can­di­dates would all have the same name – John Mitchell.

The ob­sta­cle that Mitchell’s de­trac­tors place in the path of that ap­point­ment is the neg­a­tiv­ity that fol­lowed his ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­tures from the Western Force and the Golden Li­ons, but any­one who has read Mitchell’s book should un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances of those fall­outs.

Jones had a rep­u­ta­tion not dis­sim­i­lar to that of Mitchell be­fore Brighton made him the flavour of the month, and it is hard to think of many top coaches who haven’t fallen out with some­one along the way.

Rob­bie Deans? No, he was highly un­pop­u­lar when he de­parted the Wal­la­bies. Ewen McKen­zie, same story.

Even Sir Clive Woodward came hor­ri­bly un­stuck with the Bri­tish and Irish Li­ons in New Zealand in 2005, and Gra­ham Henry, did the same with the Li­ons in Aus­tralia be­fore that. Many coaches rub peo­ple up the wrong way. It hap­pens.

In Mitchell’s case, per­haps the rea­son there is still neg­a­tiv­ity to­wards him is be­cause he did the un­think­able – he is a man of prin­ci­ple and felt he was be­ing done a dirty by his em­ploy­ers so he took them on in court. And won both times.

It was those ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ings that cre­ated the con­tro­versy. Many other coaches would just have walked away, leav­ing few aware that there had been any fall­out.

Mitchell is the only can­di­date men­tioned on any of the me­dia plat­forms that brings all of what Smal men­tioned as the nec­es­sary cri­te­ria dur­ing yes­ter­day’s press con­fer­ence at New­lands: a coach with a for­eign back­ground who can stim­u­late lo­cal rugby with new ideas, some­one who has coached both in­ter­na­tional and Su­per Rugby for at least seven years, and an un­der­stand­ing of the South African rugby cul­ture.

The New Zealan­der’s stint at the Li­ons started the process of him get­ting used to the lat­ter, and it has con­tin­ued dur­ing his nearly five years as a res­i­dent of Dur­ban and his time as a com­men­ta­tor and an­a­lyst. Cross­ing the floor, as it were, to be­come a me­dia man in re­cent years has changed his per­spec­tive on a lot of things and he has had time to think about where he has gone wrong in the past.

He is the only man for the job if you want a like- for- like re­place­ment for Jones. Smal ap­pears to know that. My money says the Jones era will soon be re­placed by the Mitchell era. And it will be a suc­cess­ful one.

JOHN MITCHELL: Only can­di­date who meets all the cri­te­ria for the Storm­ers job

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