Mitchell blasts Sharks' poster boy

Sat, 22 Dec 2012 10:39
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Sale Sharks' controversial new mentor, former All Black coach John Mitchell, has wasted no time in putting his mark on the team.

Sale Sharks' controversial new mentor, former All Black coach John Mitchell, has wasted no time in putting his mark on the team.

Just months after his prolonged disciplinary hearing at the Golden Lions in Johannesburg, in which he was told to clean up his man-management act, Mitchell has again publicly blasted players.

Mitchell singled out Sharks poster boy Danny Cipriani, whom he dropped from the match-day squad for bottom-of-the-table Sale's Premiership match at Wasps on Sunday.

And he made no secret of the fact that Cipriani's poor defensive skills are at the heart of his axing.

This drastic reaction came after Mitchell saw Sale fall to a huge 0-62 defeat to Toulon in a European Cup match last week.

"There is no loyalty in professional sport," Mitchell told the Telegraph after his team announcement for the weekend's Premiership match.

"When you fall short in performance there are consequences," the confrontational coach said, adding: "One or two individuals stopped serving the team last week.

"There is no special formula to getting it right here, no magical wand I can wave. It's up to the players.

"There's been a lack of will here, too many excuses, that sense that it's always someone else's fault. It comes down to getting the mindset right, to get the right mix of people who don't give up on each other. And a lot of that comes down to getting selection right. "

While Cipriani came in for criticism after the match against Toulon for his missed tackle on Frederic Michalak, a move which resulted in the flyhalf scoring, many felt it would be churlish to apportion all the blame to the England No.10.

That did not stop Mitchell.

"Danny's got exceptional talent, but he's going to have to learn how to defend," Mitchell told the Telegraph.

"You've got to be reliable as a defender. It's that simple. You can sugar-coat it as much as you like, but that's what it comes down to.

"You can't get away with poor defence in today's game. A player has to be reliable in all forms of the game, defence as well as attack, for the obvious reason that you don't know what cards you're going to be dealt during that match.

"That's why rugby is such a unique team sport. It requires everyone to be serving the situation. It only needs one player to come up short and you're in trouble."

Mitchell, who is due to return to Johannesburg in February to serve in an advisory capacity in the backroom staff for new Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann, has formally been on Sale's books since November 28.

However, he has been "advising" them even during his protracted disciplinary case with the Lions.

He dismissed the notion that he is pulling all the strings at the Sharks.

"I'm not the boss, even though it had been painted that way, I'm here to play a role," Mitchell told the newspaper.

"I've only been out on the pitch three times since I've been here. I've got to get the mindset in the players right and look at the set-up for this season as well as for the future.

"The surgery should start now.

"You're better off with people who are really committed to the club. The rugby content is here, there are some very promising young English players, but there's a lack of will. Players give up on each other rather than going the distance."

Mitchell, 48, has a reputation as a bruiser.

He was axed from the All Blacks coaching staff, despite a success rate of more than 80 percent and taking them to the 2003 World Cup semifinal.

There was a much-publicised public spat with legendary All Black fullback Christian Cullen - which resulted in members of the New Zealand media labelling him as a "devious, scheming, ruthless, ticking time bomb".

Without the courtesy of a phone call, Mitchell dropped players like Jeff Wilson, Taine Randell and Christian Cullen. Mitchell claimed Cullen was unavailable due to injury, but ended up with egg on his face when Cullen went public saying he was fit.

It also came as no surprise to his critics in New Zealand when Mitchell became embroiled in another brouhaha, this time in Perth where he and the player roster at the Western Force were locked in a power struggle. Words such as mutiny were bandied about. The franchise called in a retired judge to sort the mess and Mitchell's powers over the team were temporarily revoked.

Eventually an uneasy truce was brokered, but often his assistant John Mulvihill was seen calling the shots at training. Wallaby legend Matt Giteau went public with the fact that he is not a fan of Mitchell's rugby philosophies.

Before his contract with the Force ran out in 2011, Mitchell took up the post as head coach at the Lions in Johannesburg in 2010. While he had some initial success, even winning the Currie Cup in 2011, the players gradually became more and more disillusioned over his belligerent behaviour.

It all came to head midway through this year's Super Ruby season, when the team locked him out of the dressing room before the encounter with the Sharks. The bottom-placed Lions easily beat the title-chasing Sharks when they changed the game plan behind closed doors.

It was not the first time a team had locked Mitchell out.

One of the best examples involves an enraged Mitchell tearing strips off the Force during a half-time speech. The story goes Mitchell was indignant his team were not following his gameplan and stormed out of the shed after a few choice words saying "you can coach yourselves".

The players locked the door behind him, and did just that, and went on to comfortably win the match.

Mitchell is also not scared to use profanities, as many members of the media can attest to when the press and coaching boxes are in close proximity in stadiums.

As for his own image as a no-nonsense operator, Mitchell makes no apologies.

"I'm not here to be liked," he told the Telegraph this week.

"If there's healthy tension, then that's a good thing. I want to challenge people but I want to inspire them too. I'm not here for my ego. I have never been in it for that."

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