Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell could be lost to the Bulls after apparently rejecting his contract extension offer from the Pretoria-based franchise.
Mitchell, who joined the Bulls last year in July as the executive for rugby, could walk out on the three-time Super Rugby champions at the end of October next year if his two-year contract is not renewed.
Mitchell has allegedly refused to sign on the dotted line to keep him at Loftus Versfeld beyond 2019 as he wants total and complete control of the franchise’s high performance programme buy-in from the Blue Bulls Company board of directors on his strategy to acquire a host of Springboks in their ambition to win Super Rugby again.
While Mitchell is probably the highest paid coach in the country and is set to get more money with his contract extension, he is more concerned about securing the services of a defence coach and to strengthen his Super Rugby squad with some big-name players.
Among the players on Mitchell’s shopping list is Springbok eighthman Duane Vermeulen, who the Bulls are looking to acquire for next year’s Super Rugby campaign, along with 37-year-old Springbok hooker Schalk Britz, who has recently retired after spending nine years at English Premiership outfit Saracens.
The Japan-based Vermeulen will obviously be available for Super Rugby, while Britz will be on a short-term deal that will see him play one season of Super Rugby, giving him an opportunity to be available for the Springboks ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Other Springboks on Mitchell’s wish list are prop Frans Malherbe and flank Jean-Luc du Preez, while Lions flank Cyle Brink is allegedly on the verge of putting pen to paper.
Springbok loose forward Oupa Mohoje and centre Lionel Mapoe have also been linked with possible moves to the capital but there have been no formal talks between the players and the franchise.
At the same time, Mitchell is looking at releasing a plethora of players who he feels do not fit into his plans, including former Junior Springboks Ruben van Heerden, JT Jackson and Franco Naudé, while Mitchell has also stressed the need to for the Bulls to recruit the best juniors available instead of swelling their junior ranks with numbers.
“We’ve got to build depth and it is pretty clear where we’ve got to build depth as well,” Mitchell said this week.
“We cannot rotate players unless you have experienced depth. We as a club have, rightly or wrongly, relied on introducing youth into Super Rugby far too early.
“It is important to us to make sure we’ve got two teams of Super Rugby quality and that is what we will be building towards.”
The 54-year-old New Zealander would not comment on his current impasse with his employers but he will have another opportunity to present his vision and plans to the board in their strategy session in Johannesburg today and tomorrow.
“I can’t really say anything much about John’s position at the moment,” said Willem Strauss, Blue Bulls Rugby Union interim president and chairperson of the BBC board of directors.
“We will be discussing various matters in our strategy session as a board and that also includes our vision and what we need to do to be successful again.”