According to the SuperSport website, with coach Johan Ackermann heading to Gloucester at the conclusion of the Super Rugby campaign, the Lions will have more than the normal motivation to win the tournament, and as they have finished top of the league table, they will be comfortable at home without the travel nightmare that other teams face in the final rounds of the competition.
Mitchell believes that the New Zealand teams in particular underestimate the emotional attachment around the Lions team and that could be to their downfall if they have to visit Johannesburg for a playoff game.
“Most definitely. They’ve presented themselves with a great opportunity by finishing top of the log. I’m not sure if the other teams understand the emotional motivation with Ackers leaving after this tournament and the fact that they fell short last year at the last hurdle.
“They will be highly motivated and have a huge amount of desire. If they can keep their composure and focus on their processes and not get too emotionally committed to the outcome, I think they will finish off well.”
Mitchell also believes that while it was never good to see the Kings and Cheetahs leave Super Rugby, the proposed move to new competitions could well benefit the rest of the country’s rugby structures when the game moves to a global season in a few years time.
“Its not nice to exit a competition. If you look at my experience in 2012 with the Lions where I was hoping to debate whether people were transparent enough about what was happening to us. But ultimately when you look at it it was probably one of the best thing that happened to the Lions in the way they could clean out and get their wage bill way under R30-million and start again with a young committed group that wasn’t targeted by the market. It is only now they’re starting to be targeted by the market. There is actually a lot of good things to happen from coming out of Super Rugby.
“But for Saru, when the next broadcasting deal comes up in Super Rugby, hedging your bets by betting on the other side of the fence is not a bad commercial strategy as well. Ultimately as well where does SA Rugby head when it becomes a global season.
“There is a lot to be said for South Africans playing in the northern hemisphere, so I guess they get the best of both worlds.”
Mitchell was the coach of the Lions when they exited Super Rugby for a season to make way for the Kings to debut in the competition.