Eddie Jones believes colleague John Mitchell has mellowed over the course of a well-travelled career, helping the New Zealander to zero in on becoming the best defence coach in the world.
Mitchell joined Jones’ backroom team in the autumn of 2018, replacing Paul Gustard to begin a second spell with England.
He had previously worked under Clive Woodward between 1997 and 2000 before serving as All Blacks head coach from 2001 up until Rugby World Cup 2003.
Also on Mitchell’s vast rugby union CV are spells in club and provincial rugby in England, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and South Africa as well as a stint in charge of the United States of America’s national side.
Speaking on the second episode of The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast, co-host Conor O’Shea reminisces about Mitchell joining the Ireland squad in the mid-1990s.
The story, of an early training session on the back of a night out, underlines Mitchell’s longevity as well as the reputation he built up as a no-nonsense disciplinarian. However, that approach has since changed.
“Mitch has made a decision now to be an assistant coach and he wants to be the best defence coach in the world,” Jones says.
“That’s a challenging opportunity for him and he’s getting stuck into it. You’ve got to ensure that he keeps growing into that job, keeps growing the defence and keeps growing himself as an individual and as a coach.
“The other thing about coaching is that it is far more complex than it used to be. You’re talking about relationships.
“If you have that hard-nosed approach to players these days, you will lose them more quickly.
“In the old days, you could still lose players but they were used to that hard-nosed approach. Now, you have to have this range of ways of dealing with players.
“Mitch has learned a different way of coaching. The Kiwi coaches were tough, farming types. That’s how the All Blacks used to bully the world. That was how they operated.”
The arrival of Mitchell, also a designated mentor for back-rowers, coincided with an upturn in fortunes for England, who had endured a run of five straight Test losses in the first half of 2018.
Helped by the form of players such as Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Maro Itoje, England’s destructive defence propelled them to the final of Rugby World Cup 2019.
As Jones explains, devolving responsibility to players has been a recurring method.
“The interesting thing is that [Mitchell] coaches defence, but he rarely leads a meeting on defence because he empowers the players to do it.
“More often than not, it will Owen [Farrell] or Courtney [Lawes] presenting on defence and Mitch is happy to take a back seat and be a support mechanism for that player.
“He’s understood how you get that balance right.”
The second episode of The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast is available on Tuesday May 5 from 6am via all main podcast providers