‘I rejected Chiefs coaching role’ – John Mitchell

David Skippers

England's defence coach John Mitchell during the press conference at Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday October 29, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU England. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at URL: bit.ly/2knOId6

England defence coach John Mitchell has revealed he turned down the chance to join Super Rugby outfit the Chiefs’ coaching staff in 2020.

Mitchell, who coached the Hamilton-based franchise in 2000 and 2001, was offered the opportunity to join forces with his former Waikato team-mate Warren Gatland, who is returning from Wales to coach the Chiefs next year.

Gatland has signed a four-year contract to coach the Chiefs but will have a one-year sabbatical in 2021 to take charge of the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa.

Mitchell said he was offered the chance to join the Chiefs as an assistant coach and he was set to step into the head coaching role during Gatland’s absence.

“When I got the opportunity for the two years to stay with England there was also an opportunity to go back home, back to New Zealand, as well,” Mitchell told the New Zealand Herald in London where he is currently part of the Barbarians coaching staff ahead of their clash with Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday.

“It was with the Chiefs. With Gats having to do the Lions as well in that sabbatical they were going to need a head coach. It was going to be more of an assistant role but moving into the head coach for that particular window.

“Emotionally it felt really good but sitting down with family and looking through it I’ve made the right decision at this time in my career.”

Chiefs CEO Michael Collins confirmed that his organisation were interested in luring Mitchell to Hamilton.

“I am happy to confirm I have had some conversations with Mitch re coaching,” Collins said. “However the process re 2021 interim head coach has not started and is a joint process with Chiefs/New Zealand Rugby. Mitch is a world class defence coach and a proud Waikato man.”

Mitchell joined England’s coaching set-up in 2018 after the Rugby Football Union bough out his contract with the Bulls where he was the director of rugby. The 55-year-old has since split his time between his family home in Durban and London.

“I spoke to both my children and just felt it was more important to stay with England and this group and Eddie (Jones),” said Mitchell.

“One year is not enough.

“For me it’s important to continue this association and look to get better and make sure our team and players get better as well.”

Mitchell admitted that the Chiefs offer was enticing and has not ruled out the prospect of one day returning to the province he represented in 134 games.

He also seems happy with his current role as an assistant coach.

“It is tempting but I also think I can still do it at some point in my life,” added the former All Blacks head coach.

“That doesn’t necessarily need to be a head coach – it could be supporting a younger coach that’s going to need that kind of experience.

“It’s a tough job head coaching these days they’ve got to balance a lot of balls.”