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Rugby | SA Rugby

Mitchell saga leaves questions hanging



The Golden Lions Rugby Union have a compelling number of questions to answer after they finally confirmed that coach John Mitchell would return to his post next week to continue his coaching role after surviving a lengthy disciplinary process against him.

While the Lions have refused to discuss the details of the disciplinary and have since the outcome of the hearing done little more than to confirm Mitchell would be returning to work, it now casts the spotlight on why he was hauled in front of a disciplinary process in the first place.

The Lions have consistently refused to discuss the details of the charges against Mitchell, and have still not even confirmed that he was found not guilty at the disciplinary process.

On Friday, a terse statement by the Lions confirmed Mitchell’s return, but gave no further explanation to why, or what fallout there would be from the Lions’ hasty move to suspend him and the egg that now visibly sits on their faces because of it.

“The Golden Lions Rugby Union can announce today that they have met with John Mitchell and have discussed the relevant matters following his suspension earlier the season. John will join the team when they return for their pre-season next week,” GLRU CEO Ruben Moggee said.

“There will be no further comment on the matter,” the statement concluded.

Mitchell was suspended by the Lions on 22 June this year after complaints from players on the way he managed them. Apparently a group of players approached GLRU president Kevin de Klerk with a list of complaints and it was decided to suspend Mitchell indefinitely pending a hearing.

But despite a list of player grievances that apparently was signed by 22 players, sources close to the hearing said that only two players turned up to testify against the coach and that this led to several charges against him being withdrawn.

The Lions could also not produce enough evidence to convict Mitchell on the statements he apparently made about Super Rugby and bringing the union into dispute.

The uncomfortable situation with Mitchell returning will have both players and officials who went up against him worried, especially as the Lions seem to have accepted they will bring him back rather than negotiate a constructive dismissal.

There have been several suggestions that the Lions, because they lost the disciplinary case, would have been hit up with a massive payout if they were to let Mitchell go and their finances currently simply do not allow for them to do so, but without confirmation from the Union itself, it still remains just a rumour.

However, there must now be questions asked about the role of GLRU president Kevin de Klerk, who immediately acted on the claims and suspended Mitchell, and whether or not he acted in haste? Then it is also a fair question that if the players' disputes had little merit, as the verdict of the disciplinary suggests, whether the Lions could not have found another way of handling the saga?

It will also be interesting to see what happens now with the other two casualties of Mitchell’s disciplinary - assistant coach Carlos Spencer and conditioning coach Wayne Taylor, both of whom were fired after Mitchell’s suspension. The Lions advertised the assistant coach position this week and are currently accepting applications.

Furthermore, the position of Johan Ackermann, who stood in as caretaker coach, will also be under the spotlight. Many felt Ackermann would have been a shoo-in to replace Mitchell had the outcome been different.

The so-called “ringleaders” -- ie players who went to De Klerk with the allegations, have mostly left the Lions now, with Josh Strauss, who was named in the media as the player who led the rebellion now with Glasgow and others either moved on to other franchises permanently or on loan or at other clubs.

The Lions will return to training next week to plan for their season, which includes several friendlies in lieu of their absence from Super Rugby.

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