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Coach Mitchell inherits 'big, fat, lazy Bulls'

AFP logoAFP 26/05/2017
John Mitchell will quit as United States coach after June Tests against Ireland and Georgia and arrive in Pretoria the following month © Provided by AFP John Mitchell will quit as United States coach after June Tests against Ireland and Georgia and arrive in Pretoria the following month

Former New Zealand coach John Mitchell has been tasked with reviving the fortunes of Super Rugby strugglers Northern Bulls, whose players were branded "big, fat and lazy" by a critic.

The 53-year-old, who played for the All Blacks at non-Test level, will quit as United States coach after June Tests against Ireland and Georgia and arrive in Pretoria the following month.

A Bulls official confirmed Friday that Mitchell had been appointed executive of rugby (head coach) in place of Nollis Marais, whose second season has been a rolling nightmare.

Super Rugby champions in 2007, 2009 and 2010, Bulls have been in steady decline since with some humiliating losses this month forcing officials to act.

They were humiliated 62-24 at home by Canterbury Crusaders of New Zealand, then overwhelmed 51-14 by Highveld neighbours Golden Lions in Johannesburg last weekend.

Bulls trail Africa 1 conference leaders Western Stormers by 15 points with just four regular-season rounds left, leaving them with virtually no hope of making the knockout stage.

Many pundits believe the problems at the franchise run much deeper than Marais and respected rugby analyst and author Dan Retief did not spare the players.

"Some big, fat and lazy Bulls are in for a rude shock when John Mitchell marches into Pretoria to crack the whip," he tweeted.

Mitchell adopted a more diplomatic stance with the South African media.

"I will do a lot of listening and watching when I get involved with Nollis. I think these are exciting times for us and we can do things slightly different."

He knows the South African rugby landscape well having guided Golden Lions from 2010 to 2012 before a fall-out with players led to his departure.

Many credit Mitchell with laying the foundations for the side that currently are the only genuine challengers to the New Zealand monopoly of Super Rugby.

Stormers wanted to hire him last year, but national rugby officials reportedly persuaded the Cape Town outfit against doing so, believing Mitchell was potentially troublesome.

This view stemmed from his breakdown with the Lions, the details of which were never publicly disclosed. He is renowned as a taskmaster who does not brook nonsense.

Mitchell coached New Zealand to the 2003 Rugby World Cup semi-finals and later spent four seasons in charge of Perth-based Super Rugby side Western Force before switching to South Africa.

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