John Mitchell will begin a second stint as part of the England coach team. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

LONDON – John Mitchell will start work as England’s new defence guru next month, now that the ex-All Black head coach has officially agreed a deal to replace Paul Gustard.

There had been intense speculation that the 54-year-old Kiwi, who was in charge of New Zealand from 2001 and 2003, was a target for the role, having previously worked in Sir Clive Woodward’s England set-up.

Sportsmail can confirm that Mitchell has finalised terms with the RFU to the end of next year’s World Cup.

It is understood that the union are in negotiations about a compensation payment with the Blue Bulls, the Pretoria-based South African Super Rugby franchise, where Mitchell is head coach.

However, the outcome of that process is regarded as a foregone conclusion, and he will move to London next month.

Head coach Eddie Jones is believed to have met Mitchell during England’s tour of South Africa in June, with a view to offering him the job vacated by Gustard, who has taken over at Harlequins.

The news follows closely after Wigan announced that Shaun Edwards, also touted as a candidate, will return to rugby league after the World Cup, following a decade of service to Wales, under Warren Gatland.

Mitchell’s coaching career took off at Sale. He was hired by Woodward as forwards coach in 1997, then returned home in 2000 and was appointed head coach of the All Blacks in 2001.

Two years later, his side were beaten by Jones’ Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Despite a third-place finish, Mitchell was sacked after the tournament.

Since then, he has had jobs in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and back at Sale.

In 2016, he was named as the new head coach of the USA national team, but he only lasted a year before leaving to assume control at the Bulls.