(Reuters) – Former New Zealand head coach John Mitchell has been appointed as England’s defence coach until the end of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) said in a statement on Tuesday.
Mitchell will leave his role of Executive of Rugby for South African Super Rugby side the Bulls and join up with the rest of England coach Eddie Jones’ staff this month to help prepare the national team for the upcoming November internationals.
The 54-year-old replaces Paul Gustard, who took over as head coach of Harlequins this season.
“This is an exciting opportunity to work with England Rugby and support Eddie Jones as head coach,” Mitchell said.
“I will be joining an elite high-performance programme, test team and coaching group where I will use all my experience and focus to bring the necessary clarity and confidence to the players from a defensive perspective.”
England’s defence has come under intense scrutiny after a poor run of form in 2018 that has included five defeats in eight internationals.
Three of those losses came in the Six Nations as the defending champions finished a dismal fifth, and criticism has mounted in the wake of their 2-1 series defeat in South Africa.
The hope is that Mitchell’s experience will aid an upturn in form. The New Zealander previously served as forwards coach to Clive Woodward when the latter was in charge of England between 1997 and 2000.
As head coach of the All Blacks, he won 23 of 28 tests and led the team to a third-place finish at the 2003 Rugby World Cup and consecutive Tri-Nations titles.
“Defence is a key pillar of our game and John is an experienced coach,” Jones said. “He’s coached the All Blacks, USA Rugby and a number of Super Rugby sides so he will bring a wealth of experience and add to the coaching mix we have here.”
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)