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