There is something admirable about John Mitchell and what seems to be his life-long quest to take lost causes and turn them into championship outfits.
And it is not because of the determined look in his eyes or even the straight talker that he is.
In the unlikeliest of comparisons, Mitchell shares the same attributes as former Bulls and Springbok boss Heyneke Meyer who took the Bulls from the doldrums to becoming the first and only South African side to win the Super Rugby competition in the professional era.
Mitchell’s journey to the top may not be littered with silverware but it has been the turnaround that the former All Black coach has brought to teams he has been involved in that has brought about plenty of hope at Loftus Versfeld since his arrival in the middle of last year.
It is in the success of the teams Mitchell has worked with, often in the aftermath of his departure, that the true value of his coaching currency is measured.
It was Mitchell who breathed new life into the Lions which saw them crowned Currie Cup champions in 2011 and they continued after he left them with the Johannesburg-based side losing finalists in the past two Super Rugby finals.
The USA have qualified for next year’s Rugby World Cup and much of that was largely due to Mitchell’s influence before joining the Bulls.
But there is a slight difference aesthetically between Mitchell and Meyer and that is obviously the hair or lack thereof, but their love and ability to thrive under pressure is what has often set them apart from many coaches around the country who are chasing success.
It is under the pressure of making the Bulls great again that Mitchell believes that he can get the best out of his squad ahead of the start of season with the Bulls playing against the Sharks tomorrow in Polokwane, the Stormers next week in Wellington and the Jaguares at Loftus in two weeks’time.
For Mitchell, the better part of the pre-season has been focused on the conditioning and skills of his players and also making sure their mindset is that of a team that wants to win.
“We still have a long way to go. We have built some solid foundations and we’ve tried a different approach,” Mitchell said this week.
“We think our athletes are healthy and we think they have become more robust. We’ve worked heavily on our individual skill sets and there is a great attitude among the group. We talked about selection before and I wasn’t hasty. I think we’ve selected some quality men in this group who are keen to become cohesive and connected. Obviously pressure will challenge us and the trials as well which we need. We need to be put under stress in the next few weeks before we go into competition.”
There’s enough talent and experience within the side for Mitchell and the Loftus faithful to be hopeful.
But it will be after the handful of pre-season games that Mitchell will know if this is another lost cause or whether this Bulls team can again rule Super Rugby.