The 54-year-old will be leaving Loftus with immediate effect, relinquishing his positions as director of rugby and head coach of the Super Rugby team, to take up the job as England’s defence coach after the RFU ended off a near two-month stand-off with the Bulls by allegedly paying out between R3million and R5m.
While the lure of coaching international rugby, the possibility of succeeding incumbent England coach Eddie Jones and the hefty pay cheque would have undoubtedly been the swaying factors to Mitchell abandoning his stay in Pretoria with just over a year still to run on his two-year contract, the reluctance of the BBC to throw big money at Mitchell’s strategy to lure some big-name players to the Bulls would have also played a role.
“We would like to humbly thank Mitch for his efforts over the last year. There is no doubt that he has made an impact on our brand, and we would like to wish him all of the best with his future endeavours,” was all BBC chief executive Barend van Graan was willing to say in a prepared statement.
Mitchell’s departure leaves the Bulls in a precarious position ahead of next year’s Super Rugby season, and with little time to find a suitable replacement who will stay at Loftus for a long time to come. Incumbent Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse has made public his interest in succeeding Mitchell as Super Rugby coach, but there will be stiff competition for the vacant post coming from the Blue Bulls’ Currie Cup coach and Super Rugby assistant coach Pote Human.
Western Province coach John Dobson, Southern Kings coach Deon Davids, Griquas coach Peter Engledow and even former Springbok Sevens coach Paul Treu as some of the candidates who could be considered.
Stonehouse finds himself as an early frontrunner to the position not because of his declaration last week, but also as a coach who is said to be preferred by Blue Bulls Rugby Union president Willem Strauss.
However, Stonehouse’s ambitions could be dampened by the BBC’s board of directors’ reluctance to make hasty decisions and Human could just be handed the reins on an interim basis for next year.
Dobson and Engledow, who takes up a new job as Paarl Boys’ High head of rugby next year, have not openly stated their availability for the job but they are said to be interested and would not turn down an approach from the BBC.
Davids has an impressive and long track record and coached the Kings to some big wins including one over the Bulls at Loftus in their last season of Super Rugby, and also enjoys the support of many influential figures within Saru who have earmarked him as a future Springbok coach.
Treu will also be on the Bulls radar with his extensive experience coaching Sevens internationally and his qualifications.