Mitch tells his story in light-hearted but straightforward read

2014-11-19 00:00

A COACH who is loved and hated by many has given the rugby fraternity an inside look at the men who call the shots in international rugby.

New Zealander John Mitchell released his book, Mitch: The Real Story, last month during what is understood to be a sabbatical from coaching the 15-man game.

The book covers Mitchell’s life from his playing days to his career as a coach of the All Blacks, Western Force and the Lions and the many difficulties, controversies and triumphs along the way.


Mitch touches on his teen years as a prolific basketball player and the choice to pursue rugby over shooting hoops.

Once he had settled on rugby, he broke onto the provincial scene and eventually went on to become an All Black. There are some entertaining stories from his days as a player and he offers interesting takes on the differences between New Zealand teams and those of South Africa, Australia and the UK.

The book captures the atmosphere of the end of the amateur era and the move into professionalism, which Mitch experienced as a player and coach.


The bulk of the book covers Mitchell’s evolution as a player-coach, to an assistant and eventually head coach of some of the biggest teams in world rugby.

After a couple of years as a provincial coach in New Zealand and club coach in England, Mitchell became an assistant coach of England under Clive Woodward.

He goes into detail about the team environment and how they managed to develop one of the best packs England has ever seen — a team who went on to win the 2003 World Cup.

Being a New Zealander, Mitchell’s tenure as All Blacks head coach seems to be his most coveted position. He discusses the difficulties of turning the team around and dealing with the politics of the New Zealand Rugby Union at the time.

He eventually lost his job after the All Blacks were beaten by Australia in the 2003 World Cup semi-final and explains why he was ousted. These situations continued to haunt him later in his career.

Moving on to coach Western Force and the Lions respectively in Super Rugby, Mitchell had to turn both teams around from poor foundations.

With the Force, he had to build the team and recruit players while he openly states that many of the Lions players were in poor physical condition when he arrived in Johannesburg.

His tales of the controversies that led to his ousting at the Force are interesting, especially looking in as a South African.

Local readers will be particularly interest in his stint at the Lions. Hard training sessions and feedback with players coupled with administration issues led to his eventual departure from the union, following a disciplinary process that Mitchell ironically won.

It is great food for thought in terms of how our local unions operate.

He also speaks about the fateful night when he was attacked and stabbed by robbers in his flat in Jo’burg.


Mitch: The Real Story is an insightful read that is well-condensed considering the many years of Mitchell’s career. Light-hearted in style, it paints a different picture from the disciplinarian that Mitchell has been made out to be.

He makes no mistake in taking ownership of his coaching methods and emphasis on conditioning — something that many players struggled to deal with.

The book concludes with his views on where the sport is going and his personal development. It remains to be seen if Mitchell will return to the coaching world — but his passion for the game is evident in the lines of the book.

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