Mitchell wants Lions to build a brand in Super15

Lions’ head coach John Mitchell intends focusing on building the rugby union’s brand now that its financial situation is the best it has been in more than a decade.

“Our vision is to present a holistic and lifestyle brand that appeals to the entire South African community,” said Mitchell.

“Clearly our process to date has attracted new investors and sponsors to excite and embrace our fans,” he said after announcing that utility forward Franco van der Merwe would stay on as captain.

Van der Merwe took over as captain of the Johannesburg side during the Currie Cup when regular skipper Cobus Grobbelaar was ruled out through injury. Mitchell named centre Doppies La Grange as vice-captain.

The former All Black coach will focus on moulding a relatively inexperienced group players into world class athletes, as he did when he took charge of the Western Force in 2005.

“We have started a high performance approach, with high performance structures down to elite schools,” said Mitchell.

“We will not ignore and sacrifice quality of staff and people and we started our change culturally, and I guess that started in the Currie Cup of 2010,” he said.

“We’ve started a new style of football that’s been witnessed already and we’ve started new values, disciplines and standards.”

Mitchell said a pragmatic approach was needed if the Lions were to become a brand that attracted more spectators to the game.

“We are being really thoughtful in our strategies and decisions to become sustainable and consistent in order to deliver the product we think is necessary to win Super Rugby and Currie Cup matches,” he said.

“We’ve also started a learning and development-based environment for all our staff and players, including black Africans and people of colour.”

He said the union in its entirety needed to reflect the same core values.

“We expect everyone in our organisation and the players to look forward to throwing away former limitations that have probably prevented us from getting to where we wanted to in the past in order to move forward as individuals and an organisation.

“There has been courage and trust demonstrated by a number of people to allow us to get to this point right now.”

Mitchell said all stakeholders should have realistic expectations of what the team could achieve in the Super Rugby competition.

“I think personally that we are behind the time frame in some of the areas of the programme,” he said.

Mitchell said that even though the union was no longer in financial straits, it was not possible to lure international stars.

“Certainly we want to add to the core group acquisition-wise, but the investors’ deal took a bit longer than expected so obviously time is not on our side.”

“I believe we have a lot of work to do still, but we are also very excited by the challenges ahead and we will continue to improve with our priorities still being about playing winning rugby in this time of change and growth.

In October, IT mogul and Guma Group executive chairman Robert Gumede and TransAfrica Capital chairman Ivor Ichikowitz signed an agreement to purchase a 49.9 percent stake in Lions Rugby.

At the time, they pledged to transform the union’s fortunes by aggressively developing the Lions franchise over the next few years.

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