Mitchell was instrumental in guiding the Golden Lions to their 2011 Currie Cup win and even though he has been out of the domestic scene for five years, the former All Black coach is confident that his team has what it takes to be title contenders.
But the Bulls will have to do it the hard way if they are to get their campaign back on track and as much as it began with the sacking of former coach Nollis Marais on Sunday, they face a demanding and tricky challenge against the Pumas in Nelspruit tonight (7pm kickoff).
The Bulls have shown throughout their campaign this year that they are as good as any team in the competition with ball in hand and it was more evident in last weekend’s 41-40 loss at the hands of the defending champions the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld.
It was the fight and resilience that the team showed against the Cheetahs that Mitchell believes will be important to carry into tonight’s clash against a Pumas side that has only lost once at home this season.
“What I loved about last weekend, put aside the 41-40 score, was our ability to fight and our ability to send the Cheetahs away when they had a healthy opportunity to score,” Mitchell said.
“To experience two yellow cards and still change the momentum of the match and turn the referee’s momentum as well, and present ourselves a nine-point lead, to me, goes to show that we have the capability and I love the fight.
“Ultimately, rugby is about dealing with chaotic situations, it is a dynamic game and it is never a perfect environment. Our guys are starting to understand how to work together and we have to go out and earn it and there is no better place to do so than Nelspruit.
“It is going to be a hard earn, and we realise the challenge that we have to own.”
But the Bulls have a major weakness which has dogged them all season long in their brittle defence, and Mitchell says it comes down to the players understanding the new system that they have adopted since his arrival at Loftus last month.
“Defence has been an area of weakness for us for some time, not just in the Currie Cup. We are a team that is between the old way and the new way, and it puts a greater demand on our athletes as well. What was encouraging about last week was our best defensive effort under the new way.
“There has been tremendous growth in that area. It is also directly related to the energy system and it asks for them to become more conditioned around the reloading. Put aside the system our athletes have to be more demanding and take ownership in the tackle.
“We have too many guys in the team who miss two or three tackles and that is not an acceptable standard and we will be changing quickly in the next few weeks,” said Mitchell.
As crucial as it will be for the Bulls to look within to arrest their three-match losing streak, they will also need to be wary of an ambitious Pumas side that would have taken a lot of confidence from their win against Griquas in Kimberley.
“They obviously had a good win away. They back themselves.”