John Mitchell (rugby union)

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John Mitchell
John Mitchell, rugby union2.JPG
John Mitchell, coaching the Western Force
Full name John Eric Paul Mitchell
Date of birth (1964-03-23) 23 March 1964 (age 53)
Place of birth Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand
Height 1.90 m (6 ft 3 in)
Weight 108 kg (17 st 0 lb)
School Francis Douglas Memorial College
Rugby union career
Position(s) Flanker / Number 8 / Lock
Amateur team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
King Country
Fraser Tech
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
1990–1991 Garryowen ()
Provincial / State sides
Years Team Apps (Points)
1985–1995 Waikato 134 (335)
Teams coached
Years Team
Fraser Tech
Ireland (Forwards coach)
Sale Sharks
England (Forwards coach)
London Wasps (Asst. coach)
Waikato B
New Zealand
Western Force
Golden Lions
Sale Sharks (Director of Rugby)
United States
Blue Bulls
Correct as of 4 January 2016

John Eric Paul Mitchell (born 23 March 1964) is a New Zealand rugby union coach and former player. He is currently the head coach of the Blue Bulls, after formerly coaching the All Blacks, English side Sale Sharks, and Super Rugby sides the Chiefs, Lions and Western Force.

Playing career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Born 23 March 1964 in Hawera, New Zealand, Mitchell was a pupil at Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth when he made the first XV; he was a member of the NZ secondary schools basketball team from 1981–83. He represented NZ Juniors in basketball in 1982–83, but then decided to concentrate on rugby. From here, he earned a place at King Country RFU aged 19 before playing for Fraser-Tech from 1984. He was soon selected provincially for the Waikato Colts.


He made his Waikato senior debut in 1985 and played at number eight, blindside flanker and lock before he became firmly established at number eight. Equal top scorer in first division rugby in 1989–90, he thus scored more tries over these seasons than any other NZ first division player.[citation needed]

Mitchell was given the Waikato captaincy in 1989. In 1990, because of a broken leg, he could only play half the games. He was reappointed captain in 1991 and led from that time on until his retirement just prior to the start of the 1995 season.[citation needed] Overall, he played 134 games for Waikato, including a record 86 times as captain, scoring 335 points from 67 tries. In the off-season, Mitchell played club rugby in France and Ireland, which included a stint with Garryowen in the All-Ireland League. He was part of the team that finished second on the 1990–91 season to Cork Constitution.

All Blacks[edit]

Though Mitchell never played for the All Blacks at test level, he did represent the team on 6 occasions in 1993. He traveled as part of the 1993 tour of Britain squad, where he featured in 6 uncapped matches. His first was against a Midland Division side on 26 October 1993 where the All Blacks came out victors 12–6. He later went on to captain the side three times, all resulting in victories; Scottish Development XV 31–12, England Emerging Players 30–19 and Combined Services 13–3.[1][2][3]

He also featured for a Classic All Blacks side in 1995 in Bermuda.[4]




Coaching in England 1996–2000[edit]

Despite not retiring from playing until 1995, Mitchell featured as a player/coach at Fraser Tech until his retirement. When Murray Kidd was named the new Irish rugby coach in 1995, he brought in Mitchell as a technical adviser/forwards coach in January 1996.[5]

In May 1996, he was brought into the Sale Sharks by coach Paul Turner who later stood down at the end of the 1995–96 season. Mitchell subsequently became in charge of Sale until 1999. Following problems at Sale, his contract was bought out and he left the club.[6]

In 1997, Mitchell was targeted by newly appointed head coach of England, Clive Woodward, to be the new forwards coach. He left the national set-up in 2000.[citation needed]

New Zealand[edit]

In late 2000 Mitchell returned to New Zealand for his appointment as the new head coach of the Chiefs in the Super 12,[7] and he led the side to sixth in the table.

In October 2001, Mitchell was named the head coach of the New Zealand national side.[8] Just a month after being appointed as head coach, Mitchell's first match in charge was against Ireland in Dublin, which saw the All Blacks win 40–29, before going onto beat Scotland 37–6, and Argentina 24–20. In 2002, Mitchell was unable to lead the All Blacks to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, having not won the trophy since 1997. The All Blacks reclaimed the trophy a year later, however, winning both games.

Mitchell led the All Blacks to a third-place finish at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, with victories over Italy, Canada, Tonga and Wales in the group stage to finish top of Pool D. The All Blacks beat the Springboks 29–9 in the quarterfinals, but lost to hosts Australia in the semifinal 22–10. Following that loss, Mitchell lost his job as All Blacks coach. The NZRU cited Mitchell's difficult relationships with the media and with sponsors as the main reasons for searching for other head coaching candidates, rather than the performance of the team.[9]


Coaching 2004–2010[edit]

After leaving the All Blacks, Mitchell took over Waikato ahead of the 2004 National Provincial Championship. In his first season in charge, Waikato bowed out at the Semi Finals after losing to Wellington 28–16, while in 2005, they failed to make the play-offs at all, finishing seventh after the regular season.

In 2006, Mitchell became the first ever New Zealander to coach an Australia Super Rugby franchise when he took over the Western Force in their debut season of the expanded competition Super 14. In their first season they finished last with just a single victory, coming in Round 13 against the Cheetahs, winning 16–14. In their second season, they jumped up to seventh on the table picking up 6 victories before falling back down the table across the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons. Mitchell was released as coach of the Western Force.

South Africa[edit]

Mitchell took up a role in South Africa as Golden Lions head coach, before returning to the Super Rugby in 2011 with the Lions.[10][11] On 29 October 2011 it was Kiwi against Kiwi in the 2011 Currie Cup final when Mitchell's Golden Lions hosted a star-studded The Sharks rugby team under fellow Kiwi John Plumtree in Johannesburg. The Sharks team included the full Springbok front row as well as seven more Springboks. The Golden Lions won the match 42–16[12] to win their first Currie Cup Championship in 12 years and also winning their first Currie Cup title on their home field in 61 years.[13]

On 22 June 2012, he was suspended after complaints from Lions players regarding the manner in which they were treated by Mitchell.[14] In November, he was found not guilty of all charges against him and reinstated as Lions head coach.[15] However, on 23 November 2012, he quit as coach to take over as a technical adviser at the Lions.[16] On the 28 November 2012 after two seasons with the Lions, Mitchell then accepted a position at Sale Sharks in the UK towards the end of 2012.[17] However, on 29 December 2012, Sale announced Mitchell had returned to South Africa citing "personal reasons".[18]

Mitchell claimed he was offered the job to coach Scotland and he turned down the offer in 2013.[19] On September 11, 2013, Mitchell was named head coach of UKZN in the Varsity Cup.[20]

Following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Mitchell applied for the vacant head coach position of the England national team, but failed to be selected for the role, with Eddie Jones being the preferred candidate.[21]

Head coach of the United States[edit]

On January 4, 2016, USA Rugby announced Mitchell as the new head coach of the USA Eagles, taking over from Mike Tolkin. The four-year contract sees him take the USA Eagles through the 2019 Rugby World Cup.[22] His first match in charge was an uncapped match against Argentina XV in the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship. The game was drawn 35–all in a game that included 11 uncapped players in the USA's team. Those 11 uncapped players were later officially capped a week later when Mitchell led USA to a 30–22 victory over Canada, the American's fourth consecutive victory over the Canadians. On 20 February, USA went top of the table with a 64–0 victory over Chile, however the States failed to keep hold of that position a week later when they were surprisingly beaten by Brazil in Barueri 24–23, with a last minute penalty to the Brazilians. It was the first ever meeting between the two nations, with Brazil earning their first ever victory over a tier 2 nation. On 5 March, Uruguay earned their first victory over the Americans since 2002, when they defeated the Eagles 29–25 in Montevideo. USA finished the Championship in second place with 15 points, 7 points behind Champions Argentina XV.

In June 2016, the United States put up a convincing display against Italy, going down 24–20. A week later, the United States downed rivals Russia 25–0. During the 2016 November internationals, Mitchell handed 6 players their international debut, across two test matches. The United States lost both test matches, losing 23–10 to Romania and 20–17 to Tonga. They were additionally defeated by the Māori All Blacks 54–7 at Toyota Park.

In March 2017, Mitchell led the United States to their first ever Americas Rugby Championship title, with victories over Brazil (51–3), Canada (51–34), Chile (57–9) and Uruguay (29–23) heading into the final week. Both the United States and Argentina XV were level on points leading into the Championship decider in the final week, which saw them draw for the second consecutive year in a row - a bonus point try in overtime to level the score and see the United States finish with 22 points on the table to Argentina's 21.

It was announced in late May that Mitchell will leave the USA Eagles after their 2019 Rugby World Cup Qualifiers play-offs against Canada in July, so he could return to South Africa to the Blue Bulls.[23] His last campaign as the Eagles head coach saw Mitchell win just one game, while the other games were two losses and a draw. Their two losses came as part of the June international window, a 55–19 loss to Ireland before a first ever loss to Georgia at home, 21–17. Despite this, Mitchell helped the United States qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup as Americas 1, the first time they had done so with previous attempts seeing the States qualify as Americas 2 or 3. This came after they drew the first leg, Canada at home, 28–28, before the return fixture the following week in San Diego, which saw the Eagles win 52–16.

Mitchell left the United States with a 42% win rate, eight wins from nineteen matches. He oversaw the Eagles first major Championship title, and saw his side come within minutes of beating their first ever Tier 1 oppositions when they lost narrowly to Italy in 2016.


Blue Bulls[edit]

On 25 May 2017 it was announced that Mitchell will return to South Africa to coach the Blue Bulls, taking over from Nollis Marais. He will take over after the Super Rugby campaign for the 2017 Currie Cup. Once again Mitchell will look to rebuild a rugby union the way he did at the Lions, as Bulls were in the middle of their worst of Super Rugby campaign when the announcement was made.[24] The announcement of his role at Blue Bulls was greeted in a mostly positive light among fans and the media, as South Africa looked to rebuild their rugby. Many believed he is the perfect person to professionalize South African rugby on a larger scale. Despite the optimism, some people were wary of Mitchell and his man management skills, noting how he left the Lions. Following his departure from the Lions, some players went as far as calling him a "demon" on social media.[25]

Other honors[edit]

England (as assistant coach)

London Wasps (as assistant coach)

Golden Lions


  4. ^ Passion keeps John Mitchell firing
  5. ^ Ireland look to Kiwi care to bear fruit
  6. ^ "A CLOSER LOOK AT JOHN MITCHELL", Rugby Today, January 7, 2016.
  7. ^ Ex-All Black Mitchell to coach Chiefs
  8. ^ All Blacks hand over coaching reins to Mitchell
  9. ^ "Keep Mitchell as All Blacks coach, says poll", ABC News, 6 December 2003.
  10. ^ Lions secure Mitchell services
  11. ^ Mitchell announces he'll stand down as Force coach, The Roar, Retrieved on 25 March 2010.
  12. ^ [1], Supersport, Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 June 2012. Retrieved 2011-10-30. , Rugbyweek, Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  14. ^ "Lions suspend coach Mitchell". Sport24. 22 June 2012. 
  15. ^ "Mitchell back as Lions coach". Sport24. 8 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "Mitchell quits as Lions coach". Sport24. 23 November 2012. 
  18. ^ "Sale Sharks: John Mitchell quits as coach to return to South Africa". BBC News. 29 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "A CLOSER LOOK AT JOHN MITCHELL", Rugby Today, January 7, 2016.
  20. ^ John Mitchell Appointment as UKZN Rugby Head Coach
  21. ^ "ohn Mitchell wants the England job as former All Blacks coach sends CV to RFU", Daily Mail, Nik Simon, 17 November 2015.
  22. ^ "Former All Blacks Head Coach John Mitchell hired as USA Rugby Men’s Eagles Head Coach" Archived 4 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine., USA Rugby, January 4, 2016
  23. ^ Mitchell to conclude USA tenure following Rugby World Cup 2019 Qualifiers
  24. ^ Mitchell new Bulls boss

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
New Zealand Wayne Smith
All Blacks coach
Succeeded by
New Zealand Graham Henry
Preceded by
United States Mike Tolkin
USA National Rugby Union Coach
Succeeded by