John Mitchell recalls the time his intense club rivalry with Warren Gatland would force him to leave the house he shared with the Wales coach in Hamilton.
Working in the capacity of England’s defensive mastermind, Mitchell will be looking to deny his long-standing friend in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations title clash at the Principality Stadium.
The Kiwi duo played together for provincial heavyweights Waikato 124 times, including the famous 1993 rout of a midweek British and Irish Lions side that was led Will Carling.
But they also locked horns as opponents, placing their relationship under temporary strain that extended beyond Gatland’s gripe that his provincial captain “wasn’t a great flat-mate – he wasn’t much good at the cooking and housework”.
“Warren probably thinks he was a better house-mate than me and I was the untidy one!” Mitchell said.
“It was a bit of a student house. He had another team-mate in our house, he was the best man at our wedding, and I had another team-mate in there too. We were probably perceived as the more scruffy of the two.
“We were at opposite clubs as well – he played for Hamilton Old Boys and I played for Fraser Tech.
“We were arch rivals so whenever we played each other there was always competitive tension that night so one would leave the house for the night.
“I was the one to want my focus a bit earlier so I would go to my girlfriend’s. I’d just depart without any consultation.”
Gatland is competing in his 10th and final Six Nations and will leave as one of the Championship’s great coaches following a reign that has delivered two Grand Slams.
The 55-year-old has also overseen two Lions tours, winning in Australia and drawing in New Zealand, and steered Wales to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup.
It is an impressive record, but Mitchell insists his success extends beyond mere results.
“Warren was always a very positive team-mate. I was his captain,” Mitchell said.
“There were probably five school teachers and five really strong personalities. I had to manage that group and he was one of the teachers. He was always very good.
“One example – he said just concentrate on your own game rather than always the collective. He just had the ability to manage people very well.
“I remember him training as a teacher. He had to do some extra work to survive as a student but gave up drain laying after a day because of the blisters!
“I think he’s brave and he’s intelligent. He’s had a very good schooling. He’s seen all sides of the game as a player.
“He’s had different experiences which I guess have allowed him to impart. And clearly he’s been a long-time coach, the majority of it successful.
“He’s had to basically grow a rugby nation as well. And he’s done that well. And he hasn’t accepted any limits, continuing to raise the bar with them, which gives you an idea as to the way he leads.
“He’s very good with people. He’s got a good way of motivating people. He’s funny as well.”News Now - Sport News