New defensive coach John Mitchell is Eddie Jones' secret weapon as England prepare to face New Zealand

Michael Searles
England Media Access
John Mitchell's impact as defensive coach could be seen in the win over South Africa (Source: Getty)

John Mitchell is the Kiwi in the England camp and could give Eddie Jones’s side the edge this weekend as they look to inflict what would be only New Zealand’s second defeat in the past year.

England’s new defensive coach was brought in to the set-up by Jones ahead of the autumn internationals to shore up a side that had become unstuck during a tumultuous start to 2018.

Successive defeats at the back end of the Six Nations to Scotland, France and Ireland continued into the summer tour of South Africa, as England lost five on the bounce before winning their final Test against the Springboks.

Mitchell, who spent two years as head coach of New Zealand, will provide a valuable insight into the All Blacks way of thinking and more importantly, how to stop them – or, failing that, slow them down.

The 54-year-old spent his playing career in his homeland before retiring in 1995 and held coaching roles with both Ireland and England in the late 1990s. He also had a stint in charge of Sale Sharks before taking charge of the All Blacks and guiding them to third place at the 2003 World Cup.

He has bounced around jobs ever since, with some questioning his man-management skills. His longest spell in one place came at Australian Super 14 side Western Force, where he spent five years until 2010.

He joined England, where he had applied for the head coach position in 2015, after a spell in South Africa with the Bulls – to whom the RFU paid £200,000 in compensation.

Prior to that he coached the USA national team as they qualified for the 2019 World Cup, only to leave over his preference to work remotely from South Africa. Jones has not insisted Mitchell move to England permanently and has said he has no problem with him tuning into Premiership games from home.

New tactics

Despite a turbulent past, things are looking good so far with England as he works on evolving the defensive system set up by Paul Gustard, now head of rugby at Harlequins.

And there were clear signs of improvement against South Africa last week as England ground out a 12-11 victory.

Mitchell appears to have given his scrum-halves more license to drop back or push up around the breakdown as they see fit, a tactic that South Africa used to great effect when they beat New Zealand earlier this year.

Meanwhile the backs have been asked to keep more of a flat line with the wingers pushing up where possible. There is still plenty of width to capitalise on any potential turnovers, though.

It’s a tactic not dissimilar to the one Leinster deployed last season as they won the European Champions Cup, with the aim of crowding out attacking teams. But it does allow more space in behind for the full-back to cover and could leave England exposed to the kicking of Beauden Barret and Aaron Smith.

England’s record at the breakdown against South Africa was perhaps the greatest sign yet that Mitchell’s work is paying off as they gave away just one penalty.

Eddie Jones has heaped praise on Mitchell since his arrival and believes that to win the World Cup a side need two senior coaches in their ranks – something they now have.

The match with New Zealand will be a real marker to see where England are at, and Jones has claimed he has a plan to beat the All Blacks. Over to you, England.