Are Mitchell's SA coaching days done?

John Mitchell (Gallo Images)
John Mitchell (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It appears increasingly unlikely that New Zealand-born John Mitchell will ever coach at the top level in South Africa again.

Despite an impressive coaching CV, Mitchell has fallen out of favour at several unions both internationally and locally.

The New Zealand public may never forgive him for dropping Christian Cullen from the All Blacks team in 2003 when Mitchell was at the helm, this despite Cullen, one of the all-time great fullbacks, only being 27 at the time and having a excellent Super 12 season that year.

Mitchell found few friends among the players during his time at the Lions. Stories are plentiful of how unhappy team members were at his coaching and man-management methods.

While there's no disputing Mitchell's rugby brain and knowledge of the game, unfortunately for him his style simply doesn't go down well with with South African players.

In June 2012, Mitchell was suspended after complaints from Lions players regarding the manner in which they were treated. Despite being found not guilty, Mitchell quit as coach a few days later.

Recently, Mitchell appeared to be a shoo-in for the vacant Stormers coaching role after first-choice Eddie Jones sensational left the Cape franchise in the lurch after quitting the job for the greener - and more lucrative - pastures of England HQ.

Stormers Director of Rugby Gert Smal was tasked with finding a replacement and according to widespread reports, the interview with Mitchell "went well" and it was considered a "done deal".

However, as days passed with no confirmation of Mitchell's appointment, rumours abounded that the Stormers players were upset at the idea of playing for Mitchell and punted the appointment of Under-21 coach Robbie Fleck or Currie Cup coach John Dobson - or a combination of both. 

Unconfirmed reports suggested that the opinions of those Lions players who had previously played under Mitchell and were now plying their trade in the Mother City were enough for the Stormers to approach WPRFU president Thelo Wakefield with their concerns.

It now appears player power won out with the confirmation on Saturday that Fleck would be handling coaching duties at the Stormers in next year's Super Rugby tournament, despite Smal having spoken of his desire to appoint a coach with "six or seven" years of Super Rugby experience while international experience "would be beneficial".

There's little doubt it's a dangerous game when players get to decide who they will - and won't - play for, but it's equally important to maintain player-coach harmony.

With Mitchell certainly not on the Lions and Stormers players' Christmas card list, it's difficult - perhaps impossible - to see Mitchell ever taking control of another SA Super Rugby team.

The same rings true of the currently vacant Springbok coaching role.

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