John Mitchell's return to South Africa is one of the more intriguing offshore subplots to Super Rugby this season.

If nothing else, Mitchell is a survivor. The former All Blacks coach has landed in Pretoria; the Bulls his 13th professional post since joining Ireland as forwards coach in 1996.

Mitchell takes charge of the Bulls after a tumultuous period with the United States.

Under Mitchell's guidance, USA won eight of 19 matches; qualifying for the World Cup with a win and draw against Canada but also lost to Brazil for the first time.


Mitchell's last stint in South Africa featured troubles, with Lions players complaining about his coaching methods.

Now he is back in the Republic and confident of transforming the Bulls, the three-time champion franchise who capitulated in recent times, finishing 15th last year with four wins from 15 games, and ninth the three years prior.

Mitchell's initial focus has been on improving skills and resting players who had offseason stints in Japan.

Springboks halves Rudy Paige and Handre Pollard must fire if the Bulls are to stage a turnaround.

"They've got a huge amount of talent but probably lost their way in recent years and that can often happen," Mitchell said in an interview with Radio Sport's Matt Brown.

"Ultimately they've taken on the new mentality and approach. Eventually over time the penny will drop and we'll become cohesive.

"Your first goal is to present yourself that opportunity to make the playoffs and to win consistently; to play a style of rugby people in our community embrace. We do have history of being successful, and now we've got to rebuild and come out of it. If we can stay healthy there's no reason we can't be very competitive and consistent in this competition."

Mitchell, contracted until 2019, should get an immediate gauge on his Bulls side when they host the Hurricanes at Loftus on Sunday morning. Beauden Barrett joined the Hurricanes late after attending two weddings but is expected to come off the bench, and the rest of the tourist's squad looks formidable.

"He's outstanding isn't he? Being an All Black and high performance athlete he won't be far away. I wouldn't be surprised to see him feature later in the game so I expect him to play.

"Sometimes it's refreshing to get started against a really good New Zealand side because they test you all over the place. Ultimately you always want to know where you stand after your first performance."

With mutual agreements on camps and player management, Mitchell noted more synergy between South Africa's Super Rugby franchises and the Boks since Rassie Erasmus assumed control of the national team from Allister Coetzee.

"He's a very good coach. He kept away from it for a bit and has found the sweet spot again in terms of how he goes about things but he'll only be as good as the coaching group and the support he puts around the team.

"Getting the balance right between the domestic and overseas players will be critical because often the players at home are used to the high game speed of a Sanzaar tournament. With varied game tempos in Europe often those players are found wanting. There's a lot of challenges but he's also a good planner and he's smart so I'm sure he'll do well."