Do the Bulls have the balls for Mitchell?

Stephen Nell

From my seat at the foot of Table Mountain it’s been quite interesting to observe a few of the issues affecting the Bulls given their bottom of the SA conference finish.

Early in the season there was much excitement about what the Bulls might achieve under former All Black coach John Mitchell. They’ve played an attractive brand of rugby, but their season has been as much of a flop as that of the Stormers. And on paper their team certainly wasn’t any worse.

As is my feeling on Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, I believe Bulls officials would be making a mistake to lose faith in Mitchell. However, they do have a big decision to make given Mitchell’s reported demand for more marquee players.

Quite a few names have been bandied about, some of which sound like pie in the sky. Frans Malherbe, for example, is under contract with Western Province until 2019, so sections of the media either have inside information about a deal being struck between the Cape Union and the Blue Bulls, or are simply repeating the rubbish they have been fed.

Duane Vermeulen is rumoured to have pulled out of a move to Bath, which puts him in the market for a deal with a South African team. However, my information is that it’s likely to be Western Province. Unless, of course, the Bulls show him the money.

And therein lies the rub. If the Bulls are to recruit big names, they will be all-in. The union is in dire financial straits. So much so, that they are driving the motion to amend SARU’s constitution so as to allow them to sell 100% of the shares in the union to an outside party.

The Blue Bulls also face a decision on Mitchell. Obviously hoping for a quick fix between the white lines, he has instead brought a vision rather than a magic wand. And judging by reports from Pretoria he doesn’t believe the Bulls have the depth at senior level to be able to win Super Rugby.

This is in spite of the Blue Bulls’ aggressive approach to contracting. They go hard at contracting the country’s best junior talent, but the ones that make it to the very top are in the minority.

So how much faith do the Blue Bulls bigwigs have in Mitchell as a long-term solution? Was his appointment always about a quick fix given the nagging doubts around his previous fall-outs with teams he has coached?

Mitchell has been nothing else than a gentleman to me. I wasn’t in favour of him being appointed as the Stormers coach because I didn’t think he would be suited to a province with their unique political dynamics. But that was not personal, and in my experience he is likeable.

Mitchell, however, has a ruthless streak. As revealed when substituting lock Ruben van Heerden just 22 minutes into the Bulls’ game against the Jaguares. If Van Heerden was indeed poor, Mitchell was quite correct from a high performance point of view. What about the human element, though?

How does this affect the other players? Do they keep their standards up to avoid similar humiliation? Or do they take exception to one of their own going through that? And how will that emotion spill over into performance?

And perhaps a little alarm bell for Loftus officials?

The self-same officials who will have to OK a last throw of the dice at reviving the franchise’s flagging fortunes by signing the cheques needed to contract the players Mitchell wants.

The honeymoon in Pretoria is over. And as with any marriage, the relationship will now be tested.

So now that the quick fix hasn’t worked, I guess the question is simply: Do the Blue Bulls have the cajones needed to follow through on Mitchell’s vision?

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • boyo

    I think the question is do they have the money?

    It appears mitchells “Vision” is to buy the very best players and then hope that because he has a proven team of top quality the results will follow. Not really a vision if you ask me but fine.

    Do the bulls or any SA team have the money to back such a vision? I doubt it and therefore his vision needs to be more on coaching and scouting than spending but he has towed that line before and had very meager returns so what do the bulls do?

    • Jd

      Idiot, he is doing a great job coaching them.

      • Boyo

        Last! less wins from more games than ever before

  • Chris Mouton

    I personally don’t understand what the fuss is about regarding the players in the squad. If the Bulls are really that aggressive in contracting the junior players (Pollard & Serfontein are direct results of the Bulls stealing the players from underneath the sleeping WP’s noses), one has to ask what the high performance institute is doing if Mitchell doesn’t think that they don’t have enough talent? Are these talented players simply not good enough, or are they not developed well enough to make it into the senior level?

    Mitchell was instrumental in the turn-around of the Lions’ fortunes, so he knows how to develop players. That’s why his comment of SA not having top class players is quite interesting. I think that SA has enough talented players, we just need better coaching structures to teach skills and strategy. If Mitchell truly had vision he would’ve kept his mouth shut and speak about the development processes that the players are going through. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach, as certain players are thriving beneath Mitchell, but it does raise the question of what his strategy and goals are.

    As for the ruthless streak, I applaud that. SA coaches have for too long praised mediocrity (a la Allister Coetzee’s many positives after a record drubbing by NZ) and substituting a player when he is not performing shows that there’s no space to loaf around. SA players need to realise that being a professional rugby player means that it’s your job. As with any job, you can be replaced if you don’t do your job. Take the emotion and buddy-buddy nature out of it. I don’t care if the player is a lekker ou. If he can’t perform, replace him.

  • Barry Smith

    For my money the Bulls are chalk and cheese from where they were a year ago. We quickly forget just how far they had slipped under Nollis Marais! Mitchell has reinstalled respect for the jersey and a sense of Personal accountability from players. Their style of rugby has advanced light years and they have looked really threatening at times. Their biggest issue is their defence, confirmed by their negative points dif, but defence can be quickly fixed, given the right attention. Boyos above comment is right – what ever comes of this will be largely dependant on how quickly Bulls can get their finances in order!
    I am sorry, but I do not agree with your thoughts on the Stormers. They have not progressed under Fleck at all. In fact they have regressed in many facets of the game- Stormers need to make changes!

  • Humblepie

    Fleck was afforded 3 (and possibly a 4th) mediocre seasons at Stormers. I suggest Michell is allowed at least a 2nd year. He must just refrain from putting his foot in his mouth with wild, inaccurate statements.

  • hopeful

    The Bulls have shown some really positive growth and numerous players have added new skills to their playing style….A year or two more and I believe we are back in business.

    I do think some senior players in key positions would be the balancing act to get them to the correct level….

    We have no bruisers in the back three….I personally would chase down a player with two to three years left of their career still wanting to give it a final go!!….someone with a playing style of Francois Louw….

    Andre Esterhuizen would be my candidate as a backline pinch….two centre pairings capable of breaching and releasing players wide…

    Kriel & Esterhuizen
    Kotze & Odendaal

    I would also look to change the entire front row, we have no hookers worth saving and our props are dismal….Nyakane is an exception….

    Nyakane at 3
    Brits at 2, find him an understudy (He has a year or two left)
    Kitshoff at 1 (Spend the money on this guy)

    We don’t need to break the bank….just key acquisitions and players with edge and grunt….that’s all we need..

    • boyo

      I think that you do need a Bruiser in that loose trio Kirsten isn’t top class.

      Marco and agaba could make a nice 6/8 if you could get brink at 7. Good props are hard to find and I don’t see Kitschoff leaving WP. Britz may join but he is a replacement for Strauss so you still short at 2 Chilli may want to come back?

      Unless serious money comes in to get someone back from France the local teams are all short of top players.

      • hopeful

        I think the Bulls need to spend sparingly and focus on well coached players with multiple game plans…give the forwards a front row capable of matching anyone…

        Going on a wild spending spree won’t win us anything but a visit from the liquidators…

  • Barend

    I can agree somewhat with Hopeful. But not on everything. How can Jannes Kirsten and Hanro Liebenberg not be bruisers. If it was not for their long term injuries this year, they would have been outstanding players, considering their ages at 23 and 24. The problem is with the stand ins. They are not up to scratch. The problem with the Bulls are their front row. Except for Pierre Schoeman who is still a youngster, they are not big enough or strong enough or both. The only hooker that is up to scratch is Jaco Visagie. Nyakane is no tight head, he has never dominated on Super rugby level and he is an average loose head. Schoeman is leaving , so there goes their only prospect.
    The Bulls will have to sort out this. In the past, before schoolboy contracts became the vogue, the short strong locks or the heavyweight flanks and 8th men of school rugby turned props during or after u/20, were given a few years to develop and then played with the big men. No more. They throw in the props in Super rugby at age 20-21 and are surprised if they write them off like Frik Kirsten and Morne Mellet. The tight five win the matches, this has never changed and will not change with the current laws.

    • hopeful

      I liken Kirsten when he has his back up… for Hanro I’m not a fan, he just doesn’t have the aggression or go forward we need…

      Jason Jenkins at Flank with some guidance and time could very well be an answer…we have fethchers covered we need some blunt force trauma!!….we need a 7 & 8 that can change the game and put teams into submission…

      Gorgodze – Georgia
      Chabal – France
      Collins – NZ

      You get what I’m saying….

  • Herman Schroder?

    Anybody who reads Mitchell’s wikipedia story will have plenty of reasons to doubt his ability to come up with the goods. Almost without exception he has ‘fallen’ out with his employers and 16 coaching stints in 24 years, an average of one and a half years per stint, just about sums it up. Even in NZ he is generally disliked ( my son in law is a kiwi ). His recent statements calling SR a joke and basically telling his players they are just not good enough is hardly adding anything positive to his reputation. I have no problem with a coach being ‘tough’ with his charges but it must address all the dynamics at play with fairness. He does suffer a bit from ‘motor mouth’.

    It won’t be long before Mr Mitchell once again cuts short his tenure in my humble opinion. If truth be told that other kiwi coach Feeney hasn’t exactly brought the necessary improvements to the under performing Stormers if truth be told. So it seems not every overseas coach has got the magic formula to resurrect our ailing Franchises. Could it however also be that our players are beyond coaching, lol. Cheers.

    • Greg Shark

      “….Even in NZ he is generally disliked ( my son in law is a kiwi )…”…. and supposedly your son in law is the beginning and end of all things rugby coaching in NZ. I’m a serial visitor to NZ, a few months at a time, and in all chats in all the years
      over rugby have never heard ill words spoken about JM. Like all coaches some are liked more or less than others but in all instances Mitchell has walked into “Mr fix it” job and depending on available resources ultimate success may or may not take some time….just look at the lions, JM laid a very strong base there and Ackermann built a good team off that.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Greg, how can you be Mr Fix it when you have never really fixed anything ? Eddie Jones was a Mr Fix it for England but what has Mitchell actually achieved on the international stage after his stint with the AB’s who are probably the most easiest team to coach seeings they all know what they are doing most of the time.

        Even your Lions / Mitchell claim is not accurate. In Mitchells two years with the Lions they finished second bottom and stone last in SR with only six victories in 32 matches. ( Mind you the Sharks haven’t been much better these past few years, lol.) All he did was try to inculcate them with a more expansive approach albeit unsuccessfully. His lack of success led to the Lions being ‘replaced’ in SR by the Kings in 2013. Thanks a lot.

        Ackerman and Co then rebuilt the entire Franchise from the ground up and in their first year back ( 2014 ) won 7 games in 16 matches one more than Mitchell achieved in two seasons, go figure. In 2015 they won 9 with 1 draw from 16 matches. The rest is of course history. Regrettably in the meantime the old Sharkettes s were in slumber mode ranging between 11th and mid table in the past few years.

        Why has Mitchell not been courted by any NZ Franchises ( as far as I know ) ? If you have not read his wikipedia story do yourself a favour try it. How can a coach with 16 appointments in 24 years be considered Mr Fix it ?? A rolling stone gathers no moss my friend and the Bulls might just be his next cop out. He is already denigrating the competition and his players, is this sending the right signals to his players and employers ? Watch this space. Cheers.

      • hopeful

        Have to agree…JM isn’t disliked…in fact he is known to take up the challenge of correcting teams even with minimal resources or clout….

  • Flip Rademeyer

    Mitchell is not the most like coach but probably very capable. He is strong on discipline and wants results. Stephen, the problems at Stormers, see the comments in the media. You could hope for a Mitchell look alike! The coaching staff at Stormers are falling apart. Mitch should stay at Bulls and finish the job!!

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