USA Rugby announced Mitchell’s appointment on their website in the early hours of Tuesday morning South African time.
New Zealander Mitchell, who had an 82 percent win record while in charge of the All Blacks between 2001 and 2003, was regarded as the favourite to take over from Eddie Jones, who was chosen as the successor to Allister Coetzee at the Stormers.
But after Jones joined England, Mitchell had been interviewed for the post and recommended by director of rugby Gert Smal as his preferred candidate, Western Province Rugby Union president Thelo Wakefield was quoted in an Afrikaans newspaper as saying that Mitchell lacked “people skills” following controversial departures from the Western Force and the Golden Lions.
Mitchell is known to be a tough taskmaster who is strict on discipline within a team environment.
Wakefield had said that he had consulted with former players and management at the Lions, and that WP chief executive Rob Wagner and chairman Sam Dube agreed with his view that Mitchell was not the ideal man to take the Stormers forward.
But now the 51-year-old former All Blacks No 8 Mitchell – who coached his country to 23 victories in 28 Tests, with four defeats and a draw – has an exciting opportunity to turn the Americans into a new powerhouse in world rugby.
A fully professional league will start in April this year, and they have already reaped the rewards of pouring in extra resources into the sport on the Sevens circuit. The USA Sevens side shocked their Springbok counterparts in the recent Dubai tournament, where they also toppled the New Zealand team twice.
They will hope to go to the next level in 15-man rugby as well, where Mitchell will look to nurture thrilling Sevens talents such as speedsters Carlin Isles and Perry Baker on an even bigger world stage.
“I am excited about putting my strengths into play and taking on this role to transform USA Rugby into a stronger unit by the end of 2019,” Mitchell said on the USA Rugby website. “For me personally, this is a very powerful nation that has an immense audience for this amazing sport.
“Having worked previously with (USA Rugby chief executive) Nigel Melville (at Wasps in England), and knowing his level of experience and knowledge in all aspects of the game, I am confident in my decision to take on this role. I know I will have the necessary support and stability a head coach requires.”
Mitchell said he had been impressed by the Eagles’ performances at the 2015 Rugby World Cup despite them losing all four matches, including a 64-0 drubbing from the Springboks. They have qualified for every tournament bar the 1995 edition.
“I saw a team (at the World Cup) that was strong in carry in first-phase and loved to shoot in defence. Lineout accuracy affected exit plays at vital times and the ability to play at the far end (of the field),” he said.
“Controlling the momentum of games for the first half was evident, but they struggled to get back on structure and get into shape from chaos. They often denied themselves opportunities to put pressure on the opposition as a result of this.
“I am excited about putting my strengths into play and building on the solid work laid down in the last World Cup cycle by (previous coach) Mike Tolkin and his staff. I see this as a wonderful opportunity to play a key part in inspiring, mentoring, creating confidence and stability in transforming USA Rugby into a strong, globally competitive unit by the end of 2019.
“For me personally, the USA is a very powerful nation that has a huge amount of athletic talent and an audience for this dynamic sport that can be strategically attractive to World Rugby. Americans like to win, too, which I enjoy!”
Mitchell faces a tough baptism of fire almost right away, as his first match in charge will be against World Cup semi-finalists Argentina on February 6 in the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship in Houston, Texas.
Original source: John Mitchell to coach USA