Source: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

‘The man who wasn’t there’

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‘The man who wasn’t there’ is a 2001 movie by the Coen brothers narrating the story of a laconic, chain-smoking barber who blackmails his wife and lover for money to invest in dry-cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.

Fortunately for the RFU the only connection between that unseemly tale and the arrival of John Mitchell in his native New Zealand is his absence from the scene for such a long while. News of his appointment broke at the start of May this year. That militated against a smooth transfer of power from Simon Middleton to his successor.

Now that Japan have exited the men’s RWC at the pool-stages in France, Mitchell is free to make his journey home. We can only wonder how things might have worked out if the Brave Blossoms had qualified for the knockout stages. At what point might he have taken over the reins?

In the meantime Louis Deacon has taken charge successfully. He comments modestly on his role, saying merely that JM is the head coach and suggesting that holding the top position had given him great satisfaction and added another page to his CV.

In the past other changes of responsibility have known even greater controversy and confusion, but the Red Roses will be the only one of the eighteen nations now involved in WXV who will be meeting their new boss for the first time on the same day – it is hoped – as their first match.

What sort of preparation is that?

So right in the middle of the maelstrom of a completely new tournament the players, the assistant coaches and the support staff will have to get used to a new way of thinking, a new man pulling the strings. They have been careful to remind a concerned English public that Mitchell has been in touch with them several times during the interregnum, from a distance.

Let’s assume his personal timetable allows him to arrive in time for the kick-off in Wellington. He takes his seat and observes. He may well make notes or tuck away thoughts to bring up when he next comes face to face with his new squad. We can wonder what the first changes might be that he would wish to introduce. How easily will they go down? Or will he merely say: ‘Well played’ and leave it at that?

I’ll leave it to you to decide how you would react to this novel situation. How did the RFU get itself into this pickle?

Mitchell will be 60 when the 2024 Six Nations begin.