John Mitchell a bold addition to Eddie Jones’ England – but could prove a masterstroke

Matt Jones - Editor 14:56 22/09/2018
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Raising eyebrows: Eddie Jones.

Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell is a bold and surprising addition to Eddie Jones’ England coaching staff – but one that could get the Red Rose back on track following a troubled year.

These are the opinions of two former players who know the outspoken Mitchell well – ex-New Zealand international Ali Williams and former England back Austin Healey.

Some have been surprised by Mitchell’s appointment by Jones, with both coaches known to be abrasive and strong characters – but Williams and Healey feel it is exactly what England need as they look to recover form and confidence with a year to go until the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

England have lost five of their last six games – and that victory over South Africa in June bookended a 2-1 series defeat to the Springboks.

Under Jones, England also went from two-time Six Nations champions to finishing a dismal fifth this year – their worst result in the competition for 31 years.

The hope is that Mitchell’s experience will aid an upturn in form, and it is a decision that has impressed former All Black Williams.

John Mitchell is joining England.

John Mitchell is joining England.

“I speak highly of John, who was my first All Black coach and put me in the team,” said 37-year-old Williams, who won 77 caps between 2002 and 2012.

He and Healey were speaking to journalists in Dubai on Thursday, where they were guests at the annual Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch to launch the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Williams added: “I think he is a man with his own techniques and styles. He is very direct and knows what he wants. Can he relate that to and get through to the English mindset? I think that’s his challenge.

“Working with Eddie will also be challenging. Historically those boys don’t stay in roles that long which I think is one of the areas England have taken a punt on. Change is good and exciting, but change is also scary depending on how the English players and public look on it.

“But he’ll bring something new, there’s no doubt about that. He’ll bring a tough edge to them.”

Mitchell will be joining Jones’ staff as England’s defence coach until the end of next year’s World Cup in Japan.

Ali Williams was given his All Blacks debut by John Mitchell.

Ali Williams was given his All Blacks debut by John Mitchell.

He will leave his role as executive of rugby for South African Super Rugby side the Bulls and join up with the former Wallabies boss Jones later this month to help prepare for their upcoming autumn internationals.

The 54-year-old replaces Paul Gustard, who took over as head coach of English Premiership side Harlequins this season.

Jones’ run at England got off to a breathtaking start as he led them to an 18-game winning streak – a joint record for Tier One nations alongside world champions New Zealand.

But he and England have since hit a rough patch, and Williams believes Mitchell’s appointment could prove a masterstroke – as long as both men put aside their egos.

“Can Eddie and Mitch work together? I’m sure they can, but the biggest danger to rugby is the ego,” said Williams.

“If they can push that aside, they can achieve some incredible things. But if you can’t it’s a challenging game.

“It’s going to be a challenge. I know Eddie and Eddie’s a good man. We’ve seen what he’s done with Japan and Australia and now England. But now you’re seeing the Eddie where you say ‘ok, I‘ve heard this before’.”

As head coach of the All Blacks from 2001-03, Mitchell won 23 of 28 tests and led the team to a third-place finish at the 2003 Rugby World Cup and consecutive Tri-Nations titles.

He has previously worked with England, serving as forwards coach to Clive Woodward between 1997 and 2000.

Former England utility back Healey is also a big fan of the appointment, claiming that the pair can emulate the success Woodward and Martin Johnson enjoyed during their time at the England helm.

Healey was speaking at Thursday's Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch.

Healey was speaking at Thursday’s Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch.

“I think bringing in John Mitchell is probably one of the best decisions he’s (Jones) made because Mitch doesn’t stand for any of that sort of nonsense,” said 44-year-old Healey, owner of 51 England caps.

“I think everyone knows Eddie’s in charge, but Mitch is a very, very honest chap. It’s one of his best qualities. He would probably argue that his best trait is he’s a great rugby coach, but honesty is a strength of his.

“I think that, working alongside Eddie, may just slow him (Jones) down a bit. If you look at England’s most successful coaching group, it was when Martin Johnson and Clive Woodward were there, with a load of coaches in between.

“Clive was way left, Jonno was very pragmatic and everyone else was in between. I think finally there’s a person of strength there in Mitch who can act as a bit of a pragmatist in the middle.”

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