John Mitchell [officially] quits the Vodacom Bulls to join England Rugby

John Mitchell [officially] quits the Vodacom Bulls to join England Rugby

On the 14th of August, Last Word on Rugby was to publish a news item on John Mitchell departing the South African Vodacom Bulls organization. It appeared to be a fait accompli.…however, in the time between these dates, supposition and the facts have become entwined into a story which only Mitchell could have been associated with.

The assumption was until this latest update in September, a prolonged employment process for one of World Rugby’s most evocative personalities has finally been made official. The RFU provided a press release this week to confirm what many had assumed weeks ahead of time; England has a new defence coach with John Mitchell appointed until the conclusion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

On examination now, a deal being struck by the RFU and the Super Rugby/Currie Cup coach John Mitchell seemed to be a simple ‘transfer of human resources’. One where the Rugby Football Union (RFU) had been led to believe that the first-year head coach would quit the Bulls simply to join England for their World Cup preparations [in a non-discreet transaction]. How badly the parties involved had perceived this.

Original article concept by Corry Myburgh.

John Mitchell [officially] quits the Vodacom Bulls to join England Rugby

What has endured in the past weeks has been an example of how it was not the simple process most would presume so. It seemed to take an eternity, with news of advanced negotiations from the two parties, as well as the strange news that a formal complaint by the Vodacom Bulls/Blue Bulls organization to World Rugby, on how the RFU had neglected formal processes to approach John Mitchell in ways that the South African union deemed inappropriate.

From the outside, it looked to be a poorly handled affair altogether. Not one of the RFU’s best examples of human relations. The compensation agreement with South African provincial Blue Bulls/Super Rugby Bulls organization has only been completed after lengthy negotiations. And some would say that an agreement between Eddie Jones and John Mitchell seemed to be as irregular as the pairs’ employment histories.

Jones, a Rugby World Cup-winning assistant coach with South Africa in 2007, is the head coach of England Rugby – successful in his position to begin with, yet with some related issues recently that led to former assistant Paul Gustard leaving the group. He went on to become a head coach in the Premiership system. So Jones needed a replacement, but instead of looking at others within the system, he handpicked John Mitchell; who was only a year into his contract in Pretoria.

That choice of Mitchell has always been questioned too. In how Jones wished to include Mitchell in his coaching group ‘at any cost’ and how that process has only now been finally confirmed to the rugby public. And after months of negotiations, a reported $400,000 Rand transfer/compensation payment has been issued from London. A payment that creates its own discussion.

One above the news value of John Mitchell leaving the Bulls alone; as much as Mitchell joining England Rugby. And then the actual values involved, which may create a trend in coach/player transfer payments in the future.

Pressure mounted on RFU to ‘compensate’ Vodacom Bulls

Over the weeks since the news hit the rugby-streets, there has been some discussion of the compensation owed to the Vodacom Bulls. That was legitimate, although in modern rugby union terms the negotiations have only now had to meet modern industrial relations standards – not some backroom deal. Crystal clear, and with all the checks and balances where all the parties can see transparency.

Mitchell, who previously coached the United States’ Eagles for just over a year, is said to have agreed to a £300 000 deal. That’s £100 000 more than what he was earning at the Bulls. However, if the past experiences of John Mitchell are considered, then he must demonstrate an ability to ‘learn from his past mistakes’.

So Mitchell will be rewarded handsomely. And the RFU will want to see results. John Mitchell has been quoted on BBC Sport as saying, “I will use all my experience and focus to bring the necessary clarity and confidence to the players from a defensive perspective.”

So when the new coaching group is introduced to the newly announced England training squad, Jones and Mitchell will be wanting the November International window to be a successful start to the relationship.

November fixtures for England Rugby:

England v South Africa – Saturday November 3, Twickenham
England v New Zealand – Sat Nov 10
England v Japan – Sat Nov 17
England v Australia – Sat Nov 24


If England have managed to repair the recent history of losses, then it will demonstrate if the Jones/Mitchell duo are a positive influence.

He will also be involved in a 2019 World Cup campaign. England will fancy their chances of winning the Webb Ellis Trophy for a second time. While Eddie Jones and John Mitchell may just be the pair who outsmart the opposition in Japan, the major changes required so close to the pinnacle rugby tournament do not come without questions attached.

How will the England team’s defence now adapt to John Mitchell? Will he have to adapt to the will of Eddie Jones? And when it does not work, who will be the one to say ‘my way or the highway?’ Those are questions still to be answered, but for Eddie Jones, he is (as always) hugely confident.

“Defence is a key pillar of our game and John is an experienced coach.”

Although England’s road to victory will be as much of a test for the players, it will be a learning curve for the new coaching set-up. Over November, and then into the critical Six Nations Championship. At that time, fans, stakeholders and rugby observers will have a clear indication, if the appointment of John Mitchell truly was ‘a good purchase’.

It has come at a great cost ($400,000 Rand) so between now and March, only time will tell.

Mitchell joins the England team for pre-November training squad workshops, leading into their opening match of November.


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