John Mitchell will join the Bulls in mid-July after finishing his tenure as USA coach. Photo: USA Rugby via Facebook

PRETORIA – Change has finally come to Loftus Versfeld.

The appointment of former All Black and Lions coach John Mitchell to the role of Executive of Rugby at the Bulls this week could not have come at a better time for the ailing outfit.

The current standing of the team in Super Rugby is a far cry from the giants that ruled the competition seven years ago, when they captured their third Super Rugby title, and it has been increasingly difficult for the Loftus faithful to stand behind their team in the past seven years.

However, Blue Bulls Company chief executive officer Barend van Graan warned that the arrival of Mitchell won’t necessarily yield instant results and silverware.

Van Graan has pleaded for patience and time for Mitchell to weave his magic wand, and has promised that the good old days will return to Loftus in the not-too-distant future.

“Some people will say that Loftus used to be a fortress, and I believe that in time to come it will be a fortress again for the Bulls. But it is important to ask everyone to be patient, and this is only a step in our turnaround strategy. I believe that John is not the messiah or a prophet that will turn the Bulls into a winning side from day one. Please be patient with him too,” Van Graan said.

Mitchell may not be the saviour of Bulls rugby yet, but he comes with a wealth of knowledge and expertise that will surely place the Bulls at the cutting edge of domestic and Super Rugby.

It is hoped that he could produce the same results like he did in transforming the Lions from being the perennial whipping boys to the powerhouse outfit that have won two Currie Cup titles and made the Super Rugby final since his time at Ellis Park.


While Mitchell didn’t last long enough in Johannesburg to see the fruits of his labour, he is hoping that the winning feeling, coupled with a packed Loftus and happy fans, is something he can survive long enough to see happen again in the capital.

“I feel truly privileged to join this wonderful union rich in history and very proud province as well,” the 53-year-old said.

“I think a big part that appealed to me was the integrity that the people have shown and also the integrity that existed in the process. I found it to be very clear to me what was required and wanted, it was very honest and decisive.

“I’m excited to work with a talented group of players, competent staff, and I feel that I can add to their competency. The one thing that I would love you to hear is that it is absolutely clear what has to be done, and we will make our team confident again.

“The vision and the purpose is that I want to see Loftus filled to the rafters again, and I want to make people happy. As coaches we are conditioned to wins and losses, but the one thing I think success is all about actually is making a lot of people happy.”

As good a coach as Mitchell’s illustrious resume may reflect, it has not been without controversy, and his widely reported departure from the Lions was riddled with accusations of his poor man-management skills.

While Mitchell was cleared of all charges brought against him at Ellis Park, the former Western Force and Chiefs coach says he is a different man and coach from then, and time away from the game has helped him find perspective in himself as a person and as a coach.


It is understandable why the Bulls have emancipated themselves from their own kraal by looking beyond South Africa’s borders for a man to rescue them from the quagmire they find themselves in, because Mitchell returns back to South Africa a better coach, which can only bode well for the future of the Bulls.

“Wherever I have walked and coached, I have left a sustainable model, and I think that is a really important feature because I’m certainly not interested in building sand castles so you can see the result of presenting a model,” he said.

“I think my methodology is very different to my previous opportunity with the Lions. I think the methodology that I have researched in the last two years and had the opportunity to implement in America is cutting edge. 

“It is a peaceful way to coach, allows players to take ownership for each day, it brings clarity and confidence as well.

“I back that and look forward to offering that when I get started on July 16. That is the thing that gives me the greatest confidence, is that my methodology is unique and something that is refreshing, and allowed me to revive my coaching career.”

Pretoria News Weekend

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