The hunting down of the All Blacks as the game's pre-eminent side began in earnest for one of their own on Monday as John Mitchell started his tenure as the England defence coach with a full-on session at Clifton College.

The New Zealander's methods are designed to hit the mark "of being the best within a year's time", if the World Cup is to be won in Japan.

Mitchell pledged to "roll up his sleeves" with immediate effect so as to bring the necessary zeal and cohesion to an England defence who have struggled during a poor run of five losses in six matches.

There is little doubt that England need to raise their game if they are to compete with the All Blacks, who, Mitchell believes, have set a "come and get us" challenge to opponents.


The 54-year-old, who was assistant coach to Clive Woodward for three years, revealed that he never thought he would be back with England but that it was "as special now as it was then, and warms the heart to be back".

Mitchell, with a long and varied CV, one not without its hiccups and bust-ups, stated that it was quite normal for an assistant coach to challenge his boss (Eddie Jones) and indicated that he, himself, felt a more rounded individual than when he was first involved in coaching in his mid-30s when sparks would fly.

"I've seen the movie a few times; made lots of mistakes," said Mitchell. "I am very comfortable in my own skin in where I am at and what I've got to do.

"I really believe that England can get better and be the best within a year's time. I really do believe that. Why? Because of what I've seen in the past.

"They [the All Blacks] are outstanding, but I guess what gives us all life is that it is a World Cup year and a World Cup does close the gap. It's knockout rugby and you just need to focus on being the better team yourself. New Zealand have set the benchmark and sent out the signal to all of us – 'you come and get us'."

Mitchell, a captain of the Waikato side in the early Nineties that featured Warren Gatland, never played a Test for the All Blacks, although he did lead the midweek side six times on tour.

He went on to be head coach of the All Blacks through to the 2003 World Cup after his initial stint with England, losing to Jones's Australia in the semi-finals.

There have been posts at Wasps, Sale Sharks, Super Rugby sides, the United States and, latterly, the Bulls in Pretoria, with the Rugby Football Union having to pay £200,000 as compensation to buy him out of that contract.


Mitchell brushed aside concerns that he would be a commuter coach in that his family home is in Natal, revealing that "I will be here more than in Durban", locating himself in the Twickenham area initially, with a view to finding a more permanent base there in the new year.

His contract is for 12 months, the first he has had as an understudy since his early appointments, but he has no issue with being a subordinate to Jones.

"I've got an enormous amount of respect for the way Eddie goes about things and who wouldn't want to work underneath him?" said Mitchell.

"Selection is the boss's job, the head coach's prerogative. I am very impressed with our processes to challenge people. It creates good debate.

"If you don't have that kind of environment, how can you make someone better? A lot of us 50-year-old coaches in the world wouldn't be around if we didn't look to evolve and get better.

"I can support Eddie and it's great. I can concentrate on one area (defence) of the game but I can also mentor the back row, having been a back rower.

"With someone like Billy Vunipola (for example), I think we can also clearly get him fitter and faster and once we achieve that with him, I think he can be a super talent.

"The back row needs to complement him as well. He's a strong carrier, has good tackle-ball skills too, and we also need a blind side who's probably a little bit taller and brings us line-out options, plus the ability to carry and be very good in the protect-the-ball area."

Asked about his reputation, Mitchell said: "It's funny the perception you create and I sometimes laugh at the perception. For some reason, some people see that as the reality, and it's not. I don't sweat about the small things, I fully enjoy what I do and I am very much at peace at what I do."