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Mitchell won't jump Lions' ship

Sun, 13 May 2012 00:00
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Indications are that the Lions' Super Rugby franchise will run aground at the end of yet another dismal season, but head coach John Mitchell is not about to 'jump ship'.

Speaking to this website in an exclusive interview ahead of the team's trip to Brisbane and a meeting with the high-flying defending champion Reds, Mitchell said he will see out his contract - which runs till 2014.

The Lions coach is still not happy with the manner in which the South African Rugby Union had been handling the whole saga surrounding the Southern Kings' entry into Super Rugby in 2013.

Despite a 'briefing document' issued by SARU last week, Mitchell felt there was a lot more to play out - politically and maybe even legally - in the weeks and months to come.

The SARU document issued late last week made it clear the Kings will play in the 2013 Super Rugby tournament. It is also almost certain that the Lions will be the team to be axed from the South African conference at the conclusion of 2012 - as SARU confirmed that the 'top four' teams in the SA conference will join the Kings in 2013.

That means the last-placed Lions - currently 13 points behind the Cheetahs (fourth) on the SA conference standings - is the team to be dropped.

However, Mitchell is determined to see out his time at the Johannesburg-based franchise.

"I am contracted to 2014," he told this website, adding: "I just get on dealing with one week at a time and looking to rebuild this province.

"We had a success last year in the Currie Cup.

"Unfortunately things hadn't gone to plan for us in this competition, with the injury curse being a major issue in this campaign," he said of his team - which at one stage had 13 first-choice players sidelined.

Looking at the future of the franchise, Mitchell said he will remain focussed on the coaching aspects and leave the boardroom battles to the Golden Lions Rugby Union's executive.

Representatives of the five current franchises - Lions, Bulls, Cheetahs, Sharks and Stormers - will meet with members of the SARU executive in Johannesburg on Thursday, May 17, for further discussions around "alternative proposals" on the mechanism of qualification for 2013.

"That is not my job, my job is team performance," Mitchell said, when asked about the off-field saga.

"At the end of the day you have to understand and be informed of all the dynamics that can affect the team.

"I just feel sorry for the players in a lot of ways because there needs to be transparency and clarity on the whole from SARU on the future ... it is their responsibility."

Mitchell felt that it is "quite unprofessional" to allow for so many grey areas, especially where players' careers are involved.

"It is very important for the welfare of the players and the game that people are up front and definite about what is going to happen in that particular area."

He felt that the long history and tradition of the Lions should not be thrown on the scrap heap because of a few lean Super Rugby season.

"This union has been around for 120-odd years, so I don't see that being an easy thing to let go.

"I think there is more to play politically and legally I guess, if things don't go to plan," Mitchell told this website.

By Jan de Koning

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