Smit: Mitchell the best coach I've ever had
Cape Town - John Mitchell is back in Super Rugby, and he has the responsibility of steering the once-mighty Bulls away from the disappointment that has accompanied them in recent seasons.
Ever since they won the last of their three titles in 2010, the Bulls have been in a steady state of decline.
Last year, for example, they finished the season with just four wins from 15 fixtures as they limped to second from bottom in the South African Group, ahead of only the Sunwolves.
Along the way, the Bulls have lost their identity. They have gone from being a side that won matches and titles through perfectly combining a bruising, dominant pack and a clinical kicking game to one that has tried, unsuccessfully, to throw the ball around the park and score from everywhere.
The time was right for a completely fresh start, and that is what the franchise has been given with the arrival of Mitchell.
Never one to shy away from controversy, the former All Black coach didn't take long to ruffle feathers when he left Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige out of his squad for this year's tournament.
That fittingly signifies that, under Mitchell, the Bulls are on a new path.
Pre-season has consisted of dietary education, breathing techniques and optimum recovery strategies - a very "different" pre-season, according to flank Roelof Smit.
"We wrote a test today … that tells you everything," Smit told Sport24 on Tuesday.
But from what he has seen so far, Smit is overly impressed with Mitchell. He, like everyone, had heard the rumours of Mitchell's alleged falling out with players and staff at the Lions.
"You hear stories of how he is and you expect him to be a very strict guy, but all he wants is to be the best," Smit (25) said.
"I can remember speaking to him when I was still injured and he said: 'Roelof, you just do what I tell you to do and you’ll become a better rugby player'.
"He puts you in situations where you have to think for yourself and figure out for yourself what to do. He’s an exceptional coach. I’ve been coached by a couple of coaches and John is leading by far now, to be honest. His knowledge about rugby makes you think."
A big part of the Mitchell philosophy seems to be mental. The Bulls still want to be considered an attacking team, but they need to be measured in their approach and that has a lot to do with the mindset Mitchell is seeking to instil.
"We're an attacking side, but we take defence personally and we see defence as attack as well when we don’t have the ball," Smit explained.
"As a group we are improving in every aspect under John. To play his gameplan you have to be the fittest in your position.
"We're on our way there. He’s a very smart and tactical coach, so if we do what he tells us to do and we execute, then I guarantee we will be successful."
The Bulls take on the Hurricanes in their first match of the new season next weekend at Loftus.