5 Oct

Why Mitchell is the man for the job.
by Rick Boyd
5 Oct 2001

It’s simple.

Mitchell is a man who can make 15 players into a team. He has the quality, like Grizz Wylie or Buck Shelford, to inspire a group of individuals to move like a unit.

I’ve always liked Mitchell, when he was with Waikato, when he was captain of the dirt-trackers, even when he went to help the poms out. He’s not a technical wizard, he’s not a corporate spin doctor, he’s a man who can get players to believe in themselves so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

And this is exactly what the All Blacks need. They have most of the personnel they need, and most of them have bags of talent. They are professionals, they have all the time, money and infrastructure in the world. They don’t need any more computer programs or statistical analyses. They need to believe that they are the All Blacks and everyone else is further down the food chain, end of story.

It’s not like they have to beat the 1974 Lions or the 1936 Springboks. The Wallabies are only just hanging in there, the Springboks are totally devoid of attacking options (no, I retract that, there’s Paulse, if they play him). The All Blacks only need to lower their mistake rate, get some of the basics right, rediscover some consistency and start being All Blacks in their hearts as well as in their wardrobes; and the world is their oyster.

If they should truly develop a winning attitude and open up the world’s premium attacking back three — watch out!

I didn’t think Mitchell had a snowball’s chance in hell, to be honest. I’m amazed the NZRFU has done something so blindingly sensible. I’m overjoyed they have given him the job for the 2003 world cup. Now we’re in with a chance. Let’s hope they give him a proper backs coach and not let a plodder like Gilbert mess things up.

Obviously Oliver is not a captain’s arse and he can’t throw straight either. I have no idea who to pick for captain. Cooksley will probably get a better look in at lock. Let’s give Randell a chance back at blindside where he was once so good, but Flavell has to be a shot there as well. Cribb’s days are numbered. Who to have for number eight and openside? Beats me. I still have high hopes for Alatini, but God what we wouldn’t do for a real centre. Will Jonah go overseas for big bucks? To be honest, that is right down the bottom of my list of concerns. He’s a cruise missile with the ball in hand, but on defence he’s 18 stone of scenery. I’d be just as happy with a player who wasn’t quite such a big asset but a whole lot less of a liability.

Former Australian double-gold medal-winning hockey coach and Federal MP Rick Charlesworth was on the telly last night promoting his new book, and he said he lived by the creed that you always attack a lead. This is exactly what the All Blacks need to do.

He also said his job as coach was to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable, which is all very corny but Mitchell could do worse than adding that to his aims.

Next season is looking better already.

4 Oct

Mitchell and Who?
by Paul Waite
4 Oct 2001

For those of you coming along late in the piece, John Mitchell was appointed yesterday as All Black Coach through to the next World Cup in 2003.

At age 37 Mitchell is the youngest coach of the All Blacks ever, and interestingly he is also the first never to have coached an NPC team.

His perceived strengths are discipline, emphasis on the basic techniques especially in the forwards, and an ability to get his players’ respect and to motivate them. In essence, Mitchell is seen as a strong coach who has a very clear vision of where his team should be going, and who will not let anything get in the way of the attainment of that goal.

In interviews yesterday several interesting tidbits of information emerged, some directly from Mitchell’s statements and some which may or may not be inferred from them.

Firstly, he made a direct comment about requiring players who are top performers in their positions on the field and that he is not a fan of “utilities”. This can be viewed as a direct reference to the experiment of converting Taine Randell to openside flanker by the previous coaches in preference to form openside in the Super 12 Marty Holah, something we at Haka campaigned against from the outset. If we’ve seen the last of that then we presumably have also seen the last of Troy Flavell playing at lock; something that fans of tight forwards playing in the tight will applaud.

Another clear statement was made in reply to a question about what Mitchell thought when he watched the lineouts in the final test in Sydney against Australia this season. Mitchell obviously avoided bagging anyone, but did say that he viewed it as important for the team to develop what he called “flexibility” on the field. For those of us who were frustrated by the way the All Blacks kept booting penalties to touch for ill-fated lineouts in the closing minutes when a moment’s thought from the skipper might have brought better results this is good news.

Following on from that Mitchell was asked about the All Black captaincy. Naturally it was an unfair question at this stage and it brought the predictable “all positions are up for grabs” response, and another general statement to the effect “there will be casualties” in selections. But considering his position regarding on-field thinking and leadership, Oliver’s tenure as skipper might well be a short-lived thing. Certainly on his lineout throwing alone Oliver is on shaky ground. The $64,000 question is therefore: who else? All we can do on that is come out with another cliche: watch this space.

Looking around the squad which Smith and Gilbert assembled the country’s best players are largely already picked, but there are some which might well be looking back on 2001 as the season they were dropped.

As a hard No.8 himself Mitchell might well be looking at Ron Cribb with a view to drawing a line through his name on the squad list for the tour to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina. After coming to prominence in 2000, Cribb has largely faded and apart from a reasonable showing in the last two tests has been ineffective. Other candidates here are: Jerry Collins, Paul Miller, and maybe even Scott Robertson.

At lock Mark Cooksley is definitely still in the frame, although the potential and performances of Chris Jack are hard to ignore and Norm Maxwell is still as committed as ever.

Speculation will be at an end soon, with Mitchell naming the squad to tour at the end of this season to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina. Although initial reports had it that Mitchell would only play a part in these selections, it now transpires that he will head a selection panel which includes former coaches Smith, Gilbert and co-selector Peter Thorburn, and will have absolute control over the process. We expect the squad will be announced sometime after the NPC finishes around the end of October.

Aside from the issues of playing personnel, the public have been wondering who Mitchell will choose for his assistant. Nobody has any idea as to who this might be at present, though some rumours have been circulated that Kevin Greene might join him since he and Mitchell worked well together in the Super 12 for The Chiefs this year.

For the time being we have the honeymoon period where everyone is optimistic over the new coach and what he might achieve.

However good Mitchell is, he nevertheless does not poesses a magic wand. He has the same player base as Smith and Gilbert had, with the same abilities and deficiencies of technique. He has one end-of-season tour and then some warm-ups next year to weld a team together. After that he will be judged, as Smith and Gilbert were, on how the All Blacks perform against Australia in the Tri-Nations.

Mitchell has to coach the All Blacks to beat Australia both in New Zealand and on their turf to win back the Bledisloe Cup in 2002.

Nothing else will do.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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