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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

England rugby to benefit from John Mitchell appointment, says Austin Healey

Former England wing believes Mitchell will provide pragmatic voice to offset tension created by head coach Jones

Jones recruited John Mitchell, the former New Zealand head coach, to his staff this summer after a protracted pursuit. Reuters
Jones recruited John Mitchell, the former New Zealand head coach, to his staff this summer after a protracted pursuit. Reuters

The appointment of John Mitchell as defence coach could help revive England’s World Cup aspirations, after the side had “hit the buffers” under Eddie Jones.

That is the view of Austin Healey, the former England wing, who believes Mitchell will provide a pragmatic voice to offset the tension created by head coach Jones.

After two seasons of unparalleled success, England slumped over the past 12 months, finishing fifth in the 2018 Six Nations, and losing a Test series in South Africa.

Jones recruited the former New Zealand head coach to his staff this summer after a protracted pursuit.

Healey believes the arrival of such a high-profile figure could help correct England’s course, with the World Cup in Japan now one year away.

“They’ve gone from being potentially the best side in the world, alongside New Zealand, to who knows where,” said Healey, who was a guest speaker at the Dubai Rugby Sevens Long Lunch on Thursday.

“That is the story of Eddie Jones. He has gone through his two-year cycle, where everyone thought he would be brilliant for two years, then hit the buffers, and that is what has happened.

“Loads of staff have left, he has fired quite a few people. A number of people at the RFU have been removed from their positions. Instability is the new norm.

“He is brilliant at breaking the status quo. For him to be a long-term success, he has to break his own status quo of constantly playing mind games with people.”

Healey thinks Mitchell, who was previously England’s forward coach from 1997 to 2000, will help refresh England’s coaching environment.

“I think bringing in John Mitchell is probably one of the best decisions [Jones] has made, because Mitch doesn’t stand for any of that sort of stuff,” Healey said.

“The guys were getting emails at 5.30am, and expecting to have them answered by 6am.

“Everyone knows Eddie is in charge. Mitch’s greatest quality is just that he is a very honest chap. Honesty is a great strength of his.

“Finally, there is a person of strength there in Mitch that can act as that pragmatist in the middle. Who can say, ‘Hold on a minute, we don’t really need to be doing that, we don’t need to be doing judo in the gym and breaking people’s legs’.”

England head coach Eddie Jones is under pressure to deliver after a recent run of poor results. Getty Images
England head coach Eddie Jones is under pressure to deliver after a recent run of poor results. Getty Images

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Ali Williams, the 77-cap former All Black, played his first game for New Zealand when Mitchell was in charge, back in 2002.

“He is a man that has his own techniques, his own styles, he is very direct and knows what he wants,” Williams said.

“Can he get that through to the English mindset? I think that is his challenge. I think working with Eddie Jones will also be challenging. Historically, those boys don’t stay in roles that long.

“Now we are seeing the Eddie where sometimes you feel, ‘OK, I’ve heard this before. You have told me I can go to the bathroom for the past three years, now can’t I go of my own accord?’

“Can Eddie and Mitch work together? I’m sure they can. The biggest danger to rugby is the ego. If you can push that aside, you can achieve some incredible things. But if you can’t, it is a challenging game.”