John Mitchell’s two-year stint with the Golden Lions is all but over following “serious allegations” levelled against him by players and even members of his management team.
Mitchell, who joined the Lions halfway through 2010 and whose contract runs until October next year, has been suspended by the Lions following confirmation that a group of players presented a list of grievances to GLRU president Kevin de Klerk.
It is understood the grie-vances are about the way Mitchell treats the players, especially the seniors whom he regards as equal to the juniors, and the manner in which he talks to the players and criticises them in front of their fellow players and in public.
It is further understood that Mitchell’s changeroom rants border on “verbal abuse”, and that an incident following the defeat to the Bulls on April 14 apparently makes up part of the complaints lodged with De Klerk.
“The letters from the players are considered serious enough that, following a board meeting on Thursday, we have decided to suspend John, pending further investigation,” said De Klerk yesterday.
The Lions, who resume their Super Rugby committments next week following a three-week break with a match against the Stormers in Cape Town, will now be coached by assistants Johan Ackermann and Carlos Spencer.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” added De Klerk. “There are some serious allegations. We would never go to these lengths if it was only a handful of complaints.”
A senior player who wished to remain anonymous said he was not at all surprised it has come to this at the Lions.
“Last year’s Currie Cup success was a huge blessing, but it masked several underlying problems in the team.
“This has been coming for a while now. The coach and the senior players have never got on and if one looks at the captaincy situation in the last two years ... Franco van der Merwe, Doppies la Grange and Joshua Strauss ... well, that speaks for itself.”
Since Mitchell’s arrival, the Lions have lost senior players Jano Vermaak (to the Bulls), Doppies la Grange (to Treviso in Italy) and Michael Killian (to the EP Kings).
Butch James, Wikus van Heerden and Cobus Grobbelaar are also set to end their Lions careers at the end of this year.
The Lions, as the worst performing team in Super Rugby. are also facing the prospect of losing their Super Rugby status to the Southern Kings.
A decision on that issue will be taken by the SA Rugby Union on July 13, but it appears that whatever happens, Mitchell will no longer be part of the Lions.
As one person close to the team said yesterday: “We all know what the next step is when someone gets suspended – they get asked to leave.”
Mitchell said in an sms to Saturday Star he had been advised to not comment.
Mitchell’s spells as coach of the All Blacks and the Western Force also ended amid rumours of player discontent. - Saturday Star