John Mitchell has been appointed as head coach of the USA Eagles on a four-year deal. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The 51-year-old was recently snubbed by the Stormers, with the Cape's loss set to be America's gain.
It will be Mitchell's first full-time coaching job since he left the Lions in 2012 and the first Test team he has coached since his stint with the All Blacks ended in 2003.
SARugbymag.co.za understands that the opportunity to work with USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville, the introduction of a professional USA rugby competition in May and the athletic talent base in the country made the job appealing to Mitchell. And by telling Western Province president Thelo Wakefield not to give Mitchell the Stormers job, Saru president Oregan Hoskins made it clear that the coach's expertise is not wanted in South Africa.
'I am excited about putting my strengths into play and building on the solid work laid down in the last World Cup cycle,' said Mitchell. 'I see this as a wonderful opportunity to play a key part in inspiring, mentoring, creating confidence and stability in transforming USA rugby into a strong, globally-competitive unit by the end of 2019.
'The USA is a very powerful nation that has a huge amount of athletic talent and an audience for this dynamic sport that can be strategically attractive to World Rugby. Americans like to win too, which I enjoy!'
The Eagles lost all four of their pool matches at the 2015 World Cup – to Samoa, Scotland, South Africa and Japan – which saw them finish the year ranked 16th in the world, but Mitchell is positive they can turn things around.
'I saw a team [at the World Cup] that was strong in carry in first phase and loved to shoot in defence,' said Mitchell. 'Lineout accuracy affected exit plays at vital times and the ability to play far end. Controlling the momentum of games for the first half was evident, but they struggled to get back on structure and get into shape from chaos. They often denied themselves opportunities to put pressure on the opposition as a result of this. There was plenty of good stuff, though, that will become even better when the players understand their structures and own it.'
While Mitchell will be focused on the national team, he also wants to help develop American rugby at all levels of the game.
'I really enjoy mentoring coaches and management,' he said. 'I know I have a leadership role to play and generate long term sustainability and competitiveness throughout the USA. I have spent much time in the last three years mentoring school, club, university, Currie Cup and Super Rugby coaches through consultancy and workshops. I will support and work with the establishment of the Pro League and Americas Rugby Championship.'
Mitchell said he wanted to build a platform for USA Rugby from which to launch in the following areas:
- To cultivate a team culture and climate that is improving individual performance and connectedness.
- To be recognised as authentic competition to tier-one playing nations by the end of 2019.
- To establish an attacking playing style and approach to create for the USA a higher probability of scoring that will attract in audiences and new talent locally and globally.
- To mentor coaches and management to generate long-term sustainability and competitiveness throughout the USA.
- To support the establishment of the Pro League and Americas Rugby Championship.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images