Mitch or Ackers to replace Rassie?

Mike Greenaway

When the Emirates Lions were rebuilding under John Mitchell, Johan Ackermann was the Kiwi’s assistant coach and together they laid down roots that have since made the Lions one of the top teams in Vodacom Super Rugby. Could history repeat itself at Springbok level with this pair?

At least one of these successful coaches will likely be promoted to the Boks in the near future, given that Rassie Erasmus is only going to be acting coach until the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and then revert to his actual position as SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby.

Will John Mitchell take over as head coach of the Boks? Quite possibly. He has made it no secret that he would like to coach South Africa one day, and as a former All Blacks coach that lost just one game — the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Australia — he is more than qualified.

What about Ackermann? After his tenure at Gloucester, where he has proved both popular and successful, the Bok job is the logical next step for Ackermann. He was a big fan-favourite in South Africa because of his humility, the loyalty he engenders from his players, and the positive, happy environment he created at the Lions.

Mitchell is one tough bloke. He has hit a few potholes during his coaching career but admits that he has learned a great deal from the confrontations with players at the Force and the Lions. And now look what he has achieved at the Vodacom Bulls in no time at all. The four tries scored by the Bulls against the Chiefs last week were sublime – attacking rugby at its best. Heck, the Bulls looked like a Kiwi team…

The Lions, of course, also play like a Kiwi team. The seeds of the attacking game were planted and germinated by Mitchell, and blossomed under Ackermann.

We need no reminding of how, through sheer weight of personality, Ackermann transformed the Lions from a bunch of nobodies axed from Super Rugby to finalists in that competition two years in a row. The Lions could well have vanished off the South African rugby landscape after being heartlessly cast adrift from top-flight rugby, but what Ackermann achieved was incredible, although the early foundations were laid by Mitchell, who coached the Lions to the  Currie Cup title in 2011.

So who might it be? The meticulous planner and passionate  Mitchell, or the “ysterman” that had his Lions players willing to run through brick walls for him?

During a two-season ambulance job with the Boks heading into the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Erasmus will have one eye on the progress that Mitchell makes with the Bulls, and the other on Ackermann at Gloucester.

The possibilities for the Boks in 2020 through to the World Cup in France in 2023 are hugely exciting. Having hit rock bottom in 2017, the Boks will have more direction and a workable game plan under Erasmus in 2018. They will have a clear plan on how to play, they will be astutely selected (confused selection was one of Allister’s biggest failings) and they will be brimming with intent after four years of chaos.

It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that Erasmus wins the World Cup next year but, either way, he will hand over the whistle in 2020 to whichever candidate had the highest mark on his scorecard over the previous two seasons.

Imagine what Mitchell or Ackers could do with the Springboks over the four years leading up to the 2023 World Cup in France, especially with Erasmus efficiently working behind the scenes in support?

And the dream result would be for Mitchell and Ackermann to renew their old partnership at the Boks.

- Mike Greenaway

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  • Barry Smith

    Johan Ackerman was entrusted with South African A side, is a Springbok and is South African. That will weigh heavily in his favour, assuming he wants the job!

  • Rant

    Mitchell head coach, Ackermann assistant with a view to take over after Mitch’s 4 years. That would be my wish. Mitchell has international experience which he can pass on to Ackermann. This would be forward thinking and enable Erasmus to have confidence in his coaching and development.

    Furthermore, I would get Deon Davids on board as assistant with a view to develop him to take over from Ackermann. Continuity, development, sharing of IP: something that has been sorely lacking in Springbok rugby since readmission. And while we are at it, get some consultants, such as Feeney, to help all SA players develop their skill set further. And why not get the sevens coaches in to train certain aspects into the Springbok team. Look at how certain sevens players bring a different dynamic approach to the fifteens set-up. Awareness of space, quick reset on attack and defence, desire to get back onto one’s feet, etc.

    The best thing Jake White ever did was get Eddie Jones on board as specialist consultant in the 2007 World Cup. Erasmus needs these specialists to ensure the Springbok players are constantly developing additional skills while honing their strengths.

    • humblepie

      Good suggestions Rant (except Feeney perhaps). I agree that Jake White is overated and his WC victory should be attributed to Jones. He is OId School and we have seen with Toetie that although he may occasionally talk a modern game but come crunch time, quickly reverted back to old habits.
      We now have an opportunity to permanently close the door on programmed rugby, percentage rugby, brainless crash rugby, exit plans (or whatever you want to call kicking rugby) and a pre-occupation with bulky, slow players.

    • Barry Smith

      Agree with most of this, but Feeney, not really! Stormers are rivaling Sunwolves, Brumbies & Jaguars for worst Points Dif in the competition!

  • John Dunn

    I like both coaches and I think either would make a positive difference at international level. The Lions don’t currently feel like a championship side, but I think Swys’s influence at the Lions in the 2016 and 2017 is very underrated. If the Lions win Super rugby in 2018 would Swys be thrown in as a coaching contender? Could a Mitch / Swys or Ackers / Swys combo be the way to go?

  • Dean

    Most certainly would be a dream team. However, I’m not sure you can have Mitchell, Rassie and Ackermann all involved at the same time. Those are 3 very strong personalities. It all depends on who will have the best working relationship with Rassie and the current management team. Ackermann most likely. I doubt Ackermann would work under Mitchell again as an assistant. He’s come a long way since then and is a head coach now. David Wessels is also one for the future.

  • Gerhard

    I am n bit puzzled why does Rassie not continue coaching the Springboks his full contract term ? Surely this is the ultimate job which most coaches worldwide would grab with both hands if offered and it should be a great privilege.If Eddie Jones got this offer before the one of England he would not have hesitated and would have taken it.Why is this not the case with Rassie and the case that he would rather be the Director Of Rugby or is it a case of that he no longer want the hot seat which can be very stressful and his first choice is looking long term ? Perhaps it is that he thinks that he can make n bigger impact by getting involve in Rugby from grassroot level to Springbok Rugby. ? Just curious

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