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Top UK scribe lets rip at Mitchell’s England job

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Former England player-turned-columnist Stuart Barnes is not impressed with his old team’s new defensive coach.

COLUMN: Why the unhealthy obsession with John Mitchell?

According to the Stuff website, in a scathing column on the appointment of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell, Barnes – clearly no fan of the well-travelled Kiwi coach – has voiced his displeasure at England coach Eddie Jones‘ choice.

“Apart from air miles and experience, it’s hard to see what he brings,” Barnes wrote of Mitchell in his column in the Sunday Times.

Mitchell joined England as a defence coach last week following the Rugby Football Union reportedly agreeing to a £200 000 (R3.74 million) compensation package to his former employers, the Blue Bulls.

“John Mitchell has experience. I’ll give him that. However, there is not much else in his CV to recommend him,”Barnes wrote.

In a statement announcing his appointment, Mitchell said: “I will use all my experience and focus to bring the necessary clarity and confidence to the players from a defensive perspective.”

In the same statement, Jones said: “Defence is a key pillar of our game and John is an experienced coach.”

But experience is not enough to impress Barnes, a former England flyhalf, who went on to outline his reasons for being so critical of Mitchell’s appointment.

“There is the small matter of his never having been a defence coach. But we can override that because, as a head coach, he’ll surely have a decent understanding of all the game’s aspects,” Barnes wrote.

He went on to point out the Mitchell coached Bulls were the second worst team for conceding tries in the recently completed Super Rugby season.

Only the Sunwolves – who finished last – conceded more tries.

The Bulls conceded 509 points in the 2018 Super Rugby season with the Sunwolves letting in 664.

Barnes said it was embarrassing that the Bulls leaked an average of 31 points per game.

Mitchell’s current stint is not his first foray with England.

He was an assistant to Clive Woodward when operating as a forwards coach from 1996-2000.

“He has travelled far since then without ever establishing himself as one of the era’s great coaches,” Barnes wrote.

“His moment to reach for the stars was, without argument, in 2003. The All Blacks, coached by Mitchell, faced Australia, coached by none other than Eddie Jones, in a World Cup semi-final in Sydney.

“Australia beat New Zealand 22-10.”

Barnes, who was critical of Mitchell’s Super Rugby coaching record, said the Jones-coached Wallabies completely out-thought the All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup semi-final.

Mitchell will not relocate to England full-time and Barnes is already drawing comparisons with Mitchell’s early exit from coaching the United States when he commuted from his base in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mitchell’s early exit came less than halfway through his four-year contract when he was head-hunted by the Bulls.

“Jones must be mightily impressed to allow a defence coach to live in a different continent. Usually, he wants his regular coaches living in his pocket. It is an astounding concession to make,” Barnes wrote.

He also questions whether Mitchell will see enough of the England players given he is not basing himself in England during the club season.

“I would go as far as to say that he will not be able to provide the 100 percent focus Jones demands of every other coach with whom he has worked. Jones demands sacrifices from his staff. Not everybody is willing to make them and suddenly here is John Mitchell, remaining based in South Africa for family reasons. One year out from the World Cup.

“Apart from the politics of doing the rounds, Jones clocks up thousands of miles watching live rugby with his own eyes for professional reasons.

“Players are ineligible if they play in France. Coaches are free to take up vital positions and remain based in South Africa. 

“Mitchell is not an inveterate winner. He is not prepared to live in England. He endured a miserable season as far as the Blue Bulls defence was concerned. And he is not a defensive specialist,” Barnes wrote.

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