England’s new defence coach John Mitchell has given an astonishing account of a vicious knife attack while he was living in South Africa, which has changed his outlook in life.


Mitchell was coaching the Lions in 2010 when he was awoken by two intruders to his home. He was subsequently stabbed two times and tied up.

“It was a hell of a shock to the system,” he told the RFU website, “It was basically fight or flight. I was like ’man, I’m in trouble here. I could possibly lose my life’.”

“Out of that came a fighting attitude. I thought, ’I’m not ready to give in yet’, though nor was I equipped with the tools to deal with the situation. I was very, very lucky.”

The attack has had a lasting impact on Mitchell: “I wouldn’t say I’ve entirely got my deep sleep back, I’m always aware of noises. Believe me, it put life into perspective very quickly.”

Mitchell would stay with the Lions until 2012, when he moved to England to take over at Sale Sharks, he also took on another international post, that of the USA Eagles, before returning to South Africa again with the Bulls.

“It sharpened me up big time and allowed me to make some critical decisions in my life on what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted to go about it.


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“I’d fallen into the outcome bubble. After New Zealand’s exit from the 2003 World Cup I was very hard on myself. I’d lost perspective because I was wanting to prove a point.”

“I said I was never again going to allow winning, losing or drawing to determine who I am,” he recalls. “I like to think I’ve stayed true to that.”

The latest post in his varied career is that of defence coach with England under Eddie Jones. One of his first challenges is dealing with the new tackle law, which Mitchell says he’s preparing for.


“From a coaching and a playing point of view we have to acknowledge that we are going to have to change our behaviour in order to make the adjustment. I already have a couple of things in mind.”

Mitchell, who was outfoxed by Eddie Jones in the 2003 World Cup semi-finals, appreciates the skill set that the Australian has.

“I realised then how smart he is, so it is great to now be part of his support team and part of his programme. I enjoy the simplicity and the clarity that one gets from him. He collaborates extensively and keeps up to date with what is relevant in the game.”

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