John's negotiating his way out in South Africa
The mystery surrounding John Mitchell's negotiations to return to Sale Sharks in England deepened at the weekend.
Golden Lions Rugby Union President Kevin de Klerk claimed he was unaware of the move by Mitchell to negotiate a way out of his current contract with the Johannesburg-based union.
This despite reports quoting Sale Chief Executive Steve Diamond, suggesting that the former All Black coach, Mitchell, is negotiating with the GLRU and is set to join the Sharks early next week.
Diamond was quoted in the English media as saying that Mitchell will join the Sharks "in the next 48 to 72 hours".
"John's negotiating his way out in South Africa and he's set to join us in the next 48 to 72 hours," Diamond told The Guardian newspaper.
However, both De Klerk and GLRU CEO Ruben Moggee claimed they were unaware of this development.
"He [Diamond] knows of something that I don't know of," De Klerk told this website in an interview on Saturday.
"As far as I am concerned it is business as usual, John [Mitchell] is still the Lions' coach," the GLRU boss added.
De Klerk admitted there has been plenty of speculation in recent times, but they are still expecting Mitchell to turn up for pre-season training on Monday.
Mitchell, who returned to work last Monday after his suspension ended, has a contract with the Lions till 2013.
Later on Saturday the GLRU issued a media release refuting the media reports that Mitchell is set to join the Sale Sharks.
"The Golden Lions Rugby Union would like to report that media coverage today [Saturday], stating that Lions head coach John Mitchell will join the Sale Sharks within 48 hours, is false," the GLRU statement said.
"According to GLRU CEO Ruben Moggee, John Mitchell still holds a contract with the Lions and news that he will depart South Africa this weekend is nothing but foreign media speculation at this point. "
Mitchell initially joined Sale on a consultancy basis this season, with a view to a permanent move.
The former New Zealand coach was still employed by the Lions, but was suspended in June due to allegations of misconduct.
Mitchell returned to work at the GLRU last Monday, following a four month period of absence, and said he was looking forward to his future at the Union.
"I am excited about being back at the Lions and learnt a lot during the time I was away," Mitchell said in a statement.
"I am looking forward to working with the many new faces in the team and I am sure they will bring a lot of energy to our set-up,” he added.
By Jan de Koning