Mitchell begins his Lions stint
John Mitchell and Dick Muir (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - The Xerox Lions on Monday gained a former All Blacks coach and a Springbok centre but lost a Bok forward.
Western Force coach John Mitchell joined the Lions for the Currie Cup season and will act as head coach of the Lions during the absence of the union's coaching director Dick Muir, who is with the Springbok side as backline coach. Muir will rejoin the Lions about six weeks before the end of the Currie Cup campaign.
Former Springbok lock Johan Ackermann will be the forward coach while former All Blacks flyhalf Carlos Spencer, who will act as player-coach, will look after the backline - and the idea is that he will do more coaching than playing as the Lions look to blood young players for the future.
Sharks centre Waylon Murray earlier on Monday signed a two-year contract with the Lions, while prop Heinke van der Merwe, who had not made the Lions starting line-up for most of the season and decided to spend his future with Irish club Leinster.
"It is my goal to retain the winning culture for the Lions, a proud side with a proud future. My first job will be to take a look at where they are and why they didn't perform to their potential in the Super 14," said Mitchell.
"The Currie Cup is totally different to the Super 14 and in Australia (where there is no similar provincial competition) I didn't have much to do except to plan for the next season and to reflect on the past.
"I've always wanted to coach in the Currie Cup. I understand Dick Muir's vision and I believe in him," Mitchell said while making it clear that his no-nonsense approach will not change for what is really a temporary job.
"There will be no place for comfort zones. I'll be looking to instil a strong working ethic in terms of conditioning and skills and to ask questions of the experiences learnt in the Super 14 campaign.
Mitchell said he was confident that the team would move forward from their disastrous season "because the memories are still fresh and vivid." Murray, who has struggled to make the Sharks side after a long injury lay-off, says he is "incredibly excited" to be in the new environment.
"Hopefully I can learn and contribute to the Lions, and I'm looking forward to more game time." He pointed out that, at 24, he was still young enough to recover the form that made him one of the country's best and earned him three caps - against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand - in 2007.
"I'm young enough and I'll do my damnest," he said.
Van der Merwe will be joining Leinster from 1 July 2010 for a period of two years.
GLRU CEO Manie Reyneke has expressed regret about Heinke's move, but agreed that it was a great opportunity for the player to better his career. "We firmly believe in giving our players the best opportunities in life and to allow them to grow as players and this is the perfect opportunity for him to reach his full potential. As sad as we are to lose him, we could not deny him such a fantastic opportunity", Reyneke said.