PRETORIA – Former All Black and Lions coach John Mitchell could be lost to the Bulls if they don’t move swiftly to secure his signature beyond next year.
Mitchell - who arrived at Loftus Versfeld a year ago - has transformed the way in which the Bulls play their rugby, having only taken over the reins of the Currie Cup side halfway through last year and in his first season as head coach of the Super Rugby side.
While Mitchell was employed as the director of rugby, he deliberately took over the coaching of the senior teams and even though the results have not entirely gone their way, the men in blue have made encouraging signs in their playing style.
Mitchell’s coaching methods have not only brought out the best in a team that has struggled to keep their heads above water in Super Rugby in recent years but Springboks such as Handre Pollard, Lood de Jager, Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant are playing the best rugby of their careers.
At the same time, it has been under Mitchell that the Bulls have produced new Springboks in RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl, Embrose Papier and Travis Ismaiel.
Reports earlier this year had falsely stated that Mitchell had extended his contract at Loftus but the truth is that the man is yet to put pen to paper to guarantee his stay in the capital beyond October next year.
With sweeping changes expected at Loftus in the coming months following the axing of long serving chief executive officer Barend van Graan on Friday, Blue Bulls Rugby Union president Willem Strauss says securing Mitchell’s services is at the top of their list.
Van Graan, who is in his second year of a four year contract, will leave the Bulls at the beginning of next year while the Blue Bulls Company board of directors will be looking at keeping Mitchell on a longer basis and probably even bringing in more expertise on the coaching front to assist.
“We are in the process of doing exactly that and things are still in place for us to do so. We want to retain him. He is high on our wish list,” Strauss said yesterday.
It is not only Mitchell’s signature that the Bulls will be out to secure in the coming weeks with the likes of Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Ox Nche, Frans Malherbe and even Jean-Luc du Preez also said to be high on the Bulls' shopping list.
Junior Springbok centre Wandisile Simelane is also rumoured to be a high priority target for the Bulls while the three time Super Rugby champions look set to gain the services of Lions loose forward Cyle Brink while Springbok centre Lionel Mapoe might also be interested in a move across the Jukskei River.
Strauss confirmed that they are looking at growing their Super Rugby squad to almost 40 players for next year and that some of their player targets are Springboks even though they will have to wait until the beginning of next month to make formal approaches to the specific players.
“We are always looking for quality players at the Bulls. There are some positions where we are low in depth so it means that we must go find players with experience. It would be ideal to have a squad of 40 players if we want to compete in Super Rugby and coming close to that is certainly part of our plan,” said Strauss.