John Mitchell chats to Sport24

Cape Town - In a scoop for Sport24, former Lions and All Blacks coach John Mitchell tackles YOUR questions and looks ahead to Saturday's Rugby Championship clash between the All Blacks and Springboks in Auckland.

Faan Bosch asked: If the Boks play to exactly the same level of accuracy, intensity and physicality as they did this past weekend against Australia, will they beat the All Blacks? If not, what more would they need to bring to beat them?

John Mitchell: The Boks are capable of beating the All Blacks but there will be more pressure they will have to withstand than they did last weekend.  The Boks will be without ball for longer periods of time in this Test. However, if the Boks can withstand the pressure the All Blacks exert particularly in possession and at setpiece, they have a good chance of upsetting the home side.  

Abel Stolz asked: The rucks will be key in the match. Can the Boks compete at the pace the All Blacks recycle the ball?

John Mitchell: Yes, the Boks are strong over the ball and in my view Sam Cane is more of a runner and is not as accurate at the breakdown as Matt Todd is. I think Cane is in for a torrid time at the breakdown should he look to take space. In my opinion, Cane is a better bench player and would have more impact coming on for say the last 20 minutes.

Damien Stellenberg asked: What do New Zealand coaches do differently/better than South African coaches with regards to backline and counter-attacking play? NZ always seem to have a more dynamic, exciting style of play.

John Mitchell: SA coaches are extremely good at coaching the starting points, setpieces, whereas NZ coaches expose players more to the overall attack. NZ coaches see attack as a form of possession and understand the response to transitional football and prepare the players accordingly. The centralised rugby system in New Zealand helps as the coaching education is filtered to all levels, whereas in South Africa (information sharing) is more territorial.

Herman Mostert asked: What’s the biggest difference between SA’s Currie Cup and NZ’s NPC? Living in SA the feeling I get is that SA fans value the Currie Cup more than the NZ fans value the NPC.

John Mitchell: I believe that both competitions offer similar value and are played at an equally high standard. However, fewer teams can win the Currie Cup, whereas more can win the ITM Cup. The current format in NZ means that almost ten teams can win it, whereas in SA it’s probably down to four of five teams.

Greg Sara asked: Which player/s you’ve coached – either in NZ or SA – have made you go ‘wow’, he’s pretty special? And what separates them from the rest?

John Mitchell: Richie McCaw in NZ. Before selecting him for the All Blacks, I watched him as a 19-year-old in the NPC. What caught my eye was that he was phenomenal aerobically and possessed an unbelievable workrate. From SA, Jaco Taute’s intelligence and dedication really impressed me.

Dominic Valentine asked: Why would you want to continue coaching in SA when you probably had far more lucrative offers to coach in the northern hemisphere?

John Mitchell: My wife is South African and I now call Durban home. I want to put all my time and effort into my relationship and my work here.

Bruce Mallinson asked: What is your mandate – if any – in your new role as director of coaching at the University of KwaZulu-Natal? Is the aim to get a KZN varsity side into the Varsity Cup?

John Mitchell: As head of rugby, I will be revising and renewing a lot of the systems and structures. Clearly my remit is also to play a coaching role in the Varsity Shield. But even more importantly to impart my knowledge and grow other coaches in the setup. Another objective is that the Varsity Cup side becomes an important part of the Sharks family.  

Clinton Martin asked: Robbie Deans must be laughing now that his replacement as Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie is 0/3 at the start of his tenure. Did the Wallabies miss a trick in not appointing Jake White or long-term is McKenzie the right man for the job?

John Mitchell: I believe Robbie did a great job and in my view wasn’t supported enough and became quite isolated and marginalised. I’m not sure Jake would have been able to fix the inherent problems that exist in Australian rugby (in terms of depth). Provincial rugby is one thing but Test rugby is on a totally different level. Ewen is a good coach and he has the qualities to succeed.

Mahlatse Phaswana asked: How much can we read into these tournaments (Rugby Championship, Six Nations) at this stage with the 2015 Rugby World Cup in mind?

John Mitchell: I think it’s a little too far out from the World Cup to read into current results. While positive results are important in terms of forging belief, the RWC essentially comes down to the last three matches of the tournament and the form those sides are in.

Corley Heinemann asked: Do you think SA can beat NZ this weekend? Go on, make a prediction. Don't you think the All Blacks have too many old players in their team?

John Mitchell: I believe it will be a very tight game but based on New Zealand’s history at Eden Park, their consistency and their ability to apply pressure, I’m backing the All Blacks to win by three points. In response to the second point, I do believe the All Blacks have ageing issues in terms of their front-rowers. When Tony Woodcock retires will Wyatt Crockett be good enough to fill his boots under the new scrum laws? While they also have two hookers in the twilight of their careers, their squad boasts pretty good balance. Many fans forget that only 11 players remain from the 2011 RWC.

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