Lions 'suspend' their coach
The Golden Lions Rugby Union have suspended their head coach John Mitchell.
This follows the revelation that a group of players have presented a 'list of grievances' to GLRU President Kevin de Klerk as a result of the manner in which Mitchell treats players.
De Klerk, in an exclusive interview with this website, confirmed that Mitchell has been suspended with immediate affect.
"The nature of the [players'] complaints is so serious that we have suspended him [Mitchell], pending further investigation," De Klerk said.
De Klerk would not elaborate on the details of the players' complaints, saying that the decision was "not taken lightly".
"There are a number of complaints that came from the players," the GLRU boss said, adding: "We had a board meeting last [Thursday] night and regard it of such a serious nature that we suspended his services with immediate effect … pending further investigation .
"We discussed the matter at length with our legal advisors and all the stakeholders and we arrived at this decision."
Mitchell's assistants, Carlos Spencer and Johan Ackermann, will take charge of the team when the Super Rugby competition resumes next week.
The Lions' three remaining fixtures this season will see them take on the Stormers at Newlands, the Rebels in Johannesburg and the Bulls in Pretoria.
Despite being part of the Lions set-up that secured their first Currie Cup title in 12 years, when they beat a star-studded Sharks team in last year's Final in Johannesburg, the players feel aggrieved at Mitchell's behaviour.
The Lions mentor recently told this website that he wants to see out his contract, which runs to the end of 2013, with the Johannesburg-based franchise.
However, reports of a player revolt were confirmed on Friday.
Among the reports that emerged is that the players had asked him to leave the dressing room before their 38-28 win over the Sharks in Johannesburg – in the last round of matches before the break.
The players had discarded Mitchell's game plan and did what they felt was best, producing their best performance of the season and only their second win of 2012.
The former All Black coach faced a similar revolt before his departure from the Western Force in Perth, where he was 'removed' from the day-to-day coaching for a short while and later allowed to continue under 'strict supervision' from his assistants and senior players.
Mitchell, despite his 82 percent success rate and taking the All Blacks to the 2003 World Cup semifinal, was axed as New Zealand's national team coach.
Later reports emerged of player discontent.
De Klerk said he can't comment on Mitchell's past history at the All Blacks and Western Force.
"We have based our decision purely on the strength and merits of his performance here with us [at the Lions]," he said, adding: "The complaints is of such a serious nature that we are duty-bound to investigate those [complaints]."
John Mitchell, who was unavailable for comment, was in Port Elizabeth on Friday and the documentation was handed to his agent, as the Lions boss was unable to make personal contact with him.
Apart from the fall-out with the coach, there is also great uncertainty among players over the future of the union in Super Rugby.
The Lions, the lowest ranked South African team and sitting 14th on the global table of 15 teams, remain the 'front-runners' to be eliminated if the Southern Kings enter Super Rugby in 2013.
And Lions captain Joshua Strauss, speaking to this website in an exclusive interview, admitted that some players were "talking to their agents".
By Jan de Koning