(Reuters) - Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell has signed a four-year contract to lead the United States Eagles until the 2019 World Cup.
The 51-year-old Mitchell led the All Blacks in 2002-03 and through to the World Cup tournament in Australia where his side were beaten by the Wallabies in the semi-finals, which ultimately cost him his job.
Prior to that he was an assistant to England coach Clive Woodward in the late 1990s and was credited with building the England forward pack that won the 2003 World Cup.
He also coached his home town Waikato Chiefs and the Western Force in Super Rugby as well as the Lions in South Africa and Sale in England.
The former number eight, who played six games for the All Blacks in 1993 but no tests, replaces Mike Tolkin who led the side at last year’s World Cup where they failed to win a game despite hopes of at least two pool stage victories.
“For me personally, this is a very powerful nation that has an immense audience for this amazing sport,” Mitchell said in a statement.
“Having worked previously with (USA Rugby chief executive) Nigel Melville, and knowing his level of experience and knowledge in all aspects of the game, I am confident in my decision to take on this role.”
Mitchell, whose first game in charge will be the Eagles Americas Rugby Championship clash against Argentina on Feb. 6 in Houston, takes the job in a pivotal moment for the game in the U.S., with its first professional league starting this year.
One of his goals, he added was to widen the player talent pool and while he had been impressed with some aspects of the Eagles play at the last World Cup he felt there was still plenty to work on as they built to getting more matches against top-tier nations before the 2019 tournament in Japan.
“They struggled to get back on structure and get into shape from chaos,” Mitchell said of the Eagles performances in England.
”They often denied themselves opportunities to put pressure on the opposition as a result of this.
“Plenty of good stuff though that will become even better when the players understand their structures and own it.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Frank Pingue