Bring up the name John Mitchell in this part of the rugby globe and you'll begin a discussion which will be as divisive as any All Black topic.

Up north he is being painted as a potential saviour for cracks in England's system and in six weeks in the glaring din of a full house at Twickenham, Mitchell will be sitting alongside Eddie Jones in their coaching group as they host the All Blacks.

Fifteen years ago Jones and the Wallabies' semifinal win at the 2003 World Cup helped snuff out Mitchell's career on the All Black coaching roster.

He had been a shock choice to replace Wayne Smith as All Black coach towards the end of a difficult 2001 season and during his 28 tests at the helm he left many senior players bemused by his decisions. He fell out with team manager Andrew Martin and senior NZR officials and alienated large sections of the public and media.


He brought heavyweight rugby knowledge alongside his work ethic but also a sack of off-field issues with his lack of explanation about selections, reluctance to engage with sponsors and others sectors of the rugby community and a curious new self-help vocabulary.

However like Smith, who was recast as a technical expert and power behind the All Black machine for both Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, Mitchell is chaining his experience and ideas as an assistant to the England cause.

He will be front and centre of everything to do with the side's defensive and set-piece structures but won't be a regular at the top table for every pre and post-game inquisition. That's Jones' domain, while Mitchell's brief will be all about computer details, meeting room chats and on-field work.

At the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks scored 70, 68, 91 and 53 points in their pool matches, then 29 in a quarter-final against the Springboks, but were held to 10 points as they lost their semifinal against the Wallabies.

Since, Mitchell has stayed in rugby through varied coaching and administrative duties in NZ, Australia and South Africa but whenever his duties expand there have been regular battles with authorities.

With England, his role will be specific. Sort the defence.

Mitchell will match Jones for hours on duty and attention to detail and in that odd kind of way the pair may unlock a more consistently dangerous all-round game from England.

Selection and fitness will be the base key for England's improvement before Jones and
Mitchell demand more in the November internationals and Six Nations series. The All Blacks will hope Mitchell's record continues.


In his opening stint as an assistant to Clive Woodward from 1997-2000, England never beat the All Blacks but when he took charge of the All Blacks he oversaw twin defeats at Twickenham and the Cake Tin.