John Mitchell, less than a week after saying he had ‘unfinished business’ with the Lions, has started coaching Sale Sharks and stated he was always going to return to the English club.
This double speak by the controversial former All Black adds an even more bitter aftertaste to the unsavoury ending of his tenure at the Johannesburg-based franchise – despite claims by Mitchell that his ‘reputation and brand’ remains intact.
Mitchell arrived at Manchester Airport Tuesday and immediately took his place as a member of the club’s Rugby Strategy Management Board – a position he was appointed to some months ago.
And within an hour of arriving at the club’s high performance centre at Carrington, he was out coaching the club’s players.
Mitchell, in a statement issued by Sale, admitted that he never intended to stay with the Lions – despite his numerous public statements that he wanted his job back in Johannesburg.
“Dimes [Chief Executive Steve Diamond] gave me an SOS call to see what was happening. At that particular time I was in suspension and had to go through a process,” Mitchell said, explaining why he had to return to South Africa to clear his name before returning.
“I’m thrilled to have got through that process to be found innocent of all allegations.
“The next thing was to be reinstated in my position and then at that point I mutually agreed with the Golden Lions that they have moved on and emotionally I have moved on.
“That’s what I had to get done. It’s taken a lot longer than I would have hoped.
“It’s been six months and five days of a hearing. So it’s been an arduous process, but I had to get everything cleared so that I could move on.
“My reputation is still very much intact and also my brand.
“To come over and have a look was quite refreshing as I was able to understand what was happening at Sale and see why the team are in this position and then look at bringing some solutions.”
Mitchell had watched the games against Cardiff Blues, Montpellier and Worcester Warriors earlier in the season.
“So I’ve been talking to Dimes [Diamond] about certain ideas to help move us forward.
“I was always committed to coming back. I said to Steve that I wouldn’t let him down. I would have liked to have been here sooner, but obviously I was still employed by the Lions.
“There was a lot of speculation but I was always coming back.
“You go back to when I was first here as a player coach, from 1996 to 1998. Sale were in the transition of going from amateur to professional. I think only five of us were professional. The club has come a long way since then certainly in terms of professional rugby.
“Since leaving to work with England and the All Blacks, I’ve had the opportunity of building a brand new club at Western Force in Perth so that brought different skill sets and was a huge task. Then I went to the Golden Lions and looked to rebuild a club that was struggling hugely and to bring them success was something I enjoyed.
“But what comes with those jobs is that you are not dealing with the best players in the world. You have a whole number of challenges outside of just playing rugby.
“In this situation now at Sale Sharks, the reality is that we are ‘bottom of the log’. It’s not going to be an easy job but I think there are a couple of immediate issues. I think some players need to increase their desire and their performance within the group. They need to have a far greater collective desire to change this and we need to play more pressure football.
“If there is one thing I’ve noticed, it’s probably that were playing at the wrong end of the field and we need to create more pressure as a team. We seem to be quite comfortable and enjoy playing with the ball but I’d like to see us get a little more excited without the ball and create more pressure at the right end of the field.”