Johannesburg - John Mitchell had no sooner arrived at Loftus Versfeld to take up his position as Director of Rugby than he moved to squash a few rumours that have reared their heads over the past few weeks.
According to the SuperSport website, one, former All Black flyhalf Carlos Spencer would not be joining the team as has been reported, and was never an option. Neither it seems, is his long-time friend and conditioning coach Wayne Taylor.
Both Kiwis were part of Mitchell’s coaching team at the Lions when he coached in Johannesburg and there has been much speculation that both would be heading to the Bulls to take up positions and reform the combination that started the Lions’ rise to power several years ago.
Mitchell will look rather at consolidating the coaching and conditioning structures within the Bulls union and making the most out of the resources already in the franchise rather than bringing new coaching staff into the Loftus fold.
“That is a massive rumour. Carlos is contracted in Japan and that rumour should be squashed,” Mitchell said rather clearly after being quizzed on Spencer.
“Clearly we’ve had a relationship in the past and he is a bloody good coach, but at this moment in time, we will just stick with what we have. I’m operational but also have a responsibility to mentor and develop coaches as well.”
Despite the fact that the head coach for this season Nollis Marais has complained about the conditioning in the team, and echoed sentiments that Scott Robertson, the Crusaders coach, said earlier on, Mitchell believes he first needs to assess the staff that the Bulls have, but has made it a priority that the strength and conditioning coach needs to be at the top of his game.
“We’ve got five strength and conditioning coaches here, and in my view the head strength and conditioning coach is someone who needs to be relevant and up to date with science, has to have the ability to collect data and also has to have the ability to lead men. And then the competencies that exist within that group in terms of nutrition, recovery, lifting, crawling, all those aspects that are covered by strength and conditioning. They can be covered by the group but ultimately there is one thing I’ve learnt since I was last in coaching is how much you’ve got to understand how to develop high intensity and having strength and conditioning coaches that can help you with the high metrics, collate it and give feedback, helps the athlete chase the standards.”
There has also been some massive speculation that the current assistant coaches will be redeployed and few of them will survive until the 2018 Super Rugby season, but on this the new Director of Rugby was non-commital at this stage, preferring to settle in and assess the situation before taking big decisions like this.
“We’ve had some time thinking on the restructuring and we will spend a bit more time. We’re not there yet, but I’m sure that won’t be far away in terms of being announced. Ideally in Currie Cup we would like to create the alignment immediately towards Super Rugby with the coaching group. A lot of the personnel is here, it is just a matter of identifying the competency and making sure people are relevant and up to date in some areas. And making sure that the competencies are in the right positions.
“I will take a major role in attack but also have an overview in all aspects of play. But ultimately I enjoy coaching attack and have been doing it for America as well. Not often do you see forward coaches getting excited about taking the backline. Its something I enjoy and have obviously been taking the forwards and the backline for the last 18 months.”
One thing is for sure, Mitchell has not arrived at Loftus looking for a retirement cheque. The former All Black coach is keen to shake things up, and knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Getting the Bulls back to the powerhouse they were in the past is priority No 1 for him at the moment.