John Mitchell extends stay at the Lions

Super 15 franchise the Western Force have released coach John Mitchell from the final year of his contract and the New Zealander will join the Golden Lions on a three-year contract.

This was announced by Lions president Kevin de Klerk and CEO Manie Reyneke on Thursday.

Mitchell, a former All Black loose forward, has been with the Lions Currie Cup side on a consultancy basis this season.

“Since John has been with us we have been most impressed with his ability across our entire coaching structure,” said De Klerk, himself a former Springbok lock. “It has been no secret we wanted to engage him on a longer-term basis, but we realised this was always going to be subject to the Western Force agreeing to an early release.

“We are thankful and appreciative that the Western Force gave us the green light. We are getting not only a man of high ethics who cherishes the history, culture and camaraderie of rugby, but who boasts an exceptional coaching pedigree at the very highest level,” added De Klerk.

De Klerk said Lions coach Dick Muir had been a part of and conversant with the process of contracting Mitchell. “Dick, who is obviously now involved with the Springboks, is still the director of rugby at the Lions, with John as the head coach.

“Muir was instrumental in helping us secure Mitchell’s services and will play a role in our plans going forward.”

De Klerk said Mitchell would base himself in Johannesburg for the greater part of the year and be in charge of the Lions in both the Currie Cup and the Super 15.

Blank sheet
Rugby WA (Western Australia) chairperson Geoff Stooke said the Western Force and rugby in Western Australia owed a great deal to Mitchell, who started with a blank sheet of paper on his arrival six years ago and built a strong foundation for long-term success.

Mitchell will be succeeded at the Force by Richard Graham, presently the Wallabies’ skills coach.

As coach of the All Blacks, Mitchell tasted success against the Boks, with a 100% record of seven wins in seven matches — including a 52-16 drubbing at Loftus Versfeld in 2003 and a comprehensive 29-9 defeat in the quarterfinal of the World Cup in Melbourne in 2003.

He ended up with an All Black coaching record of 23 Test wins from 27 games — an 85% winning record, the highest of any All Black coach in the professional era.

His vast coaching pedigree includes stints as Clive Woodward’s assistant with the England team from 1997 to 2000, the Waikato National Provincial Championship side, the Chiefs Super 12 side and, most recently, taking the difficult job of establishing the Western Force in the Super 14 and creating a rugby culture in Perth.

As a player Mitchell gained All Black colours on the 1993 tour to the United Kingdom. He was not capped but played in six victorious mid-week games, captaining the All Blacks on three occasions.

In Waikato he was a legend, having played 134 times and captaining them a record 86 times, in a career highlighted by many other achievements.

“When I took over as president of the Lions I said I was only interested in leading a province of winners,” concluded De Klerk. “The appointment of a coach of John Mitchell’s stature confirms that goal.” — Sapa

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