Is Mitchell the right man for the Stormers?

Date published: November 24 2015

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If reports in the South African media are to be believed then John Mitchell is set to be appointed as the Stormers' new head coach.

The Cape Town-based franchise are on the lookout for a replacement for Eddie Jones, who dropped them like the proverbial hot potato, after just a fortnight in charge, to take over the England reins from Stuart Lancaster.

Mitchell revealed earlier this year that he turned down the chance to replace Allister Coetzee as the Stormers' head coach, but despite that, he has in recent days emerged as the favourite to take over from Jones as he fits the criteria laid down by Western Province and Stormers director of rugby Gert Smal.

"I still want an international coach because it stimulates the system, for both coaches and players, but it needs to be the right person," said Smal at a press conference last Friday.

"It needs to be someone who understands the Stormers' culture, the way we want to play and the dynamics of South African rugby."

Mitchell ticks most, if not all, of those boxes but is the former All Blacks boss, who also had stints in charge of the Western Force and Lions, the right man for the job?

Part of Jones' appointment was to serve in a mentoring role to the Stormers' assistant coaches which include the likes of Robbie Fleck, Paul Treu and Russell Winter.

If Mitchell is to become the team's new coach he will be expected to do the same but earlier this year during an interview with Supersport, he said one of the reasons why he turned down the Stormers was that he would not have the luxury of choosing his own assistant coaches but would be working with people who are already in the WP coaching system.

“I have no doubt that WP have the playing resources and the talent pipeline, but do they have the competency in the rest of the coaching structure there to win a Super Rugby title? I place a question mark over that," he said at the time.

I wonder if he still holds this view and whether he will have the patience to be a mentor to the abovementioned assistants.

Despite having a 86% success rate, Mitchell was unpopular as New Zealand's coach and was eventually fired after they lost to Australia in the semi-finals at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

It is also well-documented that Mitchell faced player revolts during his time in charge at the Force and Lions which eventually led to him parting ways on bad terms with both organisations.

He is, however, a firm believer in the 15-man game which Smal wants the Stormers to play. With his expansive game-plan, Mitchell guided the Lions to their first Currie Cup win 12 years in 2011.

The Lions also went on to win the Currie Cup again this year with Mitchell's former assistant Johan Ackermann in charge but he has simply followed the Mitchell blueprint and built on the foundation set by his former boss.

If appointed, Mitchell will get the Stormers to play an exciting brand of rugby which will delight their supporters, who have been yearning for some running rugby after several years of a defensive approach under Coetzee.

It remains to be seen if the New Zealander will be able to keep both the players and supporters happy with his approach to the game and for how long that happiness will last.

By David Skippers

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