Mitchell defends yanking young lock after just 22 minutes
Pretoria - Bulls coach John Mitchell has defended his decision during Saturday’s Super Rugby victory over the Jaguares to yank lock Ruben van Heerden off the field after just 22 minutes, saying he had to make a change or the game would have been lost.
According to the supersport.com website, while it is unusual to find a coach openly admitting pulling a player off because of defensive frailties, or making a change so early, Mitchell watched as his team went 19-0 down in the first 20 minutes, and decided that the Jaguares were targeting Van Heerden’s channel and made the bold call.
It was one that ultimately turned out to be a good one as the Bulls recovered for a 43-34 win in their last home game of the season, dealing the Jaguares a blow while boosting the Lions chances of ending up at the top of the log.
But while most coaches would have made the change after half-time, and Van Heerden was a late replacement after Springbok Jason Jenkins withdrew with a calf injury shortly before the game, Mitchell had no problem with the big call he made.
“If you look at it, it wasn’t a great start defensively but it was one channel which was costing us, so hence I made the change,” he explained.
“Unfortunately as a coach you have to act, and it is not a nice thing to do, but you have to act because that channel went down the flash side, and that was one players’ responsibility, and in the next situation we didn’t adjust. So yeah I made the change and as you can see as the game went on, we started hitting them behind the gain line.
“Our plans were very much around getting first and second catch, and clearly in the first 20 minutes that is what they are good at, they love getting rhythm and they got away with their third pass. As the game wore on we were forcing them back in and the first catcher, and second catcher and started making mistakes and started feeding our attack. And Jesse has been outstanding in our system the whole year and it is just great seeing him getting a reward for getting high just before halftime which in a lot of ways was a huge catalyst to mental energy as well.”
Mitchell admitted it wasn’t the best thing to do for a young player’s confidence, but underlined the fact that his job was not one of “compassion” but to help the union win.
“He’s a young player and he is in the squad but he hasn’t been with us a lot. The standard in the club is a chop tackle and that standard is also a shoulder on. You have to complete your tackles and at the end of the day if you continue to give them rhythm they would have hurt us,” he said.
“It isn’t a nice thing to do, but unfortunately I’m not in the job of compassion. I can deal with compassion with the athlete post game. But to be totally fair you have to understand that is what we are employed to do as coaches.”
Mitchell added that he was proud of his team for coming back from their horror start, and praised the team’s defence in the way they had won the game.
“Yeah I think Potes (Pote Human) was chewing his nails next to me and H (Hayden Groepes) was looking for the whisky bottle but yeah we just stuck to our processes. That is what I’m pleased at.
“At times we’ve shown immaturity around decisions. At times we have shown impatience and we just stuck at it and the boys emptied the tank. You can’t ask for anything more. Our whole week was designed around making sure our defensive plans fed our attack. Our attack at times wasn’t brilliant but there were two or three tries that were quite outstanding attack, but it all came from the defence.”
The Bulls will end their season off with a cross-Jukskei trip to Ellis Park to face the Lions on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 15:05.
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