Rugby: Kiwi coaches spring to mind for Boks post

By Paul Lewis

John Mitchell transformed the Lions.
Photo / Getty Images
John Mitchell transformed the Lions. Photo / Getty Images

Former All Black coach John Mitchell or fellow Kiwi John Plumtree as the next Springbok coach? Don't dismiss the idea; it could happen.

Most of the smart money is still on Western province duo Allister Coetzee and Rassie Erasmus as the next Bok coaching team to replace Peter de Villiers, in spite of the fact that they have signalled they are not in the running and are sticking with Western Province.

But if that does prove to be the case, various factions in South Africa have recognised the work that Mitchell has done with the Lions - turning them from comparative easybeats into Currie Cup champions - and Plumtree's consistency with the Sharks in Super Rugby.

Not everyone, however, is convinced by the denials of Erasmus and Coetzee. Erasmus says he will resume his role as the director of rugby at Western Province following his return from the Springbok coaching set-up at the last World Cup where he was technical advisor.

"I am not interested in getting directly involved with the coaching of the Boks, but rather help them on a technical basis once more in 2015," Erasmus said recently. Coetzee, who along with Erasmus is contracted to Western Province Rugby until the end of next season, also said that he still wanted to coach Western Province - but did not entirely rule himself out of contention, saying only that he was contacted to WP until the end of 2012.

There have been suggestions that Erasmus could fill a new post as director of Springbok rugby, allowing Coetzee to do the day-to-day coaching while still allowing Erasmus, a former Bok test flanker, to have an influence. The pair are regarded as a good rugby partnership and it does not damage them politically that one is coloured and the other white. Coetzee could also win the coaching job on his own if Erasmus is indeed out of the running.

He denied any knowledge of the director of rugby proposal: "I don't know about that and what it would entail. We are contracted to WP, and with how we are playing now, we could be fired before then. I don't know anything about that so I am definitely not in the mix there."

There is plenty of time for minds to be changed. De Villiers' contract doesn't run out until the end of the year and South African Rugby Union sources have signalled that a new appointment will not be made until the new year. Out of contention are World Cup-winning Bok coach Jake White (coaching the Brumbies in Super Rugby next year) and another former Bok coach Nick Mallett, who has just stood down as Italy coach after the last World Cup and who is likely to coach in France. Respected Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer has also said he will not stand.

Which doesn't leave all that many to choose from - and Mitchell and sidekick Carlos Spencer have won many friends for their efforts with the Lions, beating the Sharks in the Currie Cup final this year. The 42-16 win by the Lions was the biggest margin in finals history. They had less success with the Lions in the Super 15 this year - but most expect the franchise to do a lot better next year after their Cup success. Mitchell's team had only one 2011 World Cup Springbok in the starting line-up while the Sharks had seven - including the front row of brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira.

Plumtree has had consistent success with the Sharks, winning the Currie Cup in 2008 and last year and has kept the Sharks mostly in the top order of Super Rugby - taking them to the semifinals in his first year as coach in 2008. They have since finished 6th (2009), 9th (2010) and 6th (this year). Mitchell has also said he would not take on the Boks job but, in the politically charged arena that is Bok rugby, most will be wary of showing a hand too early - and there are still SARU meetings to be held to decide on the process and possible candidates.

Mitchell and Plumtree were both born in Hawera and worked together for the All Blacks ahead of the 2003 World Cup with Plumtree acting as video analyst.

- Herald on Sunday

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