Ian Ritchie has “no regrets” over hiring Stuart Lancaster, insisting the former England head coach helped end civil war at the Rugby Football Union.
RFU chief executive Ritchie will retire at the end of the summer, with the governing body putting together a “high-quality shortlist”, according to chairman Andy Cosslett, as it sets about recruiting a replacement.
Ritchie accepted England’s abject failure at the 2015 Rugby World Cup — which signalled the end of Lancaster’s stay before Eddie Jones took charge to huge success — as the biggest regret of his tenure.
But the 63-year-old believes current Leinster coach Lancaster’s England reign helped build the best-ever relationships between the RFU and the English clubs.
“To be clear, I have no regrets about Stuart Lancaster at all, and I really feel for Stuart and what he put in and the whole coaching team,” Ritchie said.
“Eddie Jones just has that knack when it comes to fine margins.”
Having arrived at the RFU in a moment of crisis, Ritchie found himself battling the fallout from the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand that had seen Mike Tindall embroiled in a dwarf-throwing row and Manu Tuilagi jumping off a ferry in Auckland harbour.
Cosslett hailed Ritchie and his regime for transforming “a union at war with itself”, and Ritchie, who passed up the chance to pair Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith in favour of appointing Lancaster — initially on an interim basis — in December 2011, stands by that call.
“Of course you think about that, of course you think… and hindsight’s a wonderful thing,” Ritchie said.
“Stuart is a highly talented, highly committed coach.”
Under Lancaster, England became the first hosts in World Cup history to fail to progress from the tournament’s pool stages in 2015.
Ritchie, right, was forced to sack Lancaster, left, in the aftermath of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Andrew Matthews / PA Wire/Press Association Images
“I still think Stuart did a huge number of positive things, but the ultimate is what we did [at the 2015 World Cup],” Ritchie said.
Asked if England’s performance at that tournament would remain the abiding regret of his RFU tenure, he replied: “Without question.
“As a regret, a home World Cup, not getting out of the pool stages, of course, it was huge.
“We thought it would be the chance of a lifetime, and it didn’t happen. And that’s it.
“Like all people who lose, you need to go onto what to do to make sure you win next time.
“That motivated me. We did try to deal with that, but you’ll never forget losing to Wales and Australia.
“It was a huge opportunity and we chose not to take it. But you then move on and deal with it.”
Cosslett praised Ritchie for forging unprecedented levels of trust between English clubs and the RFU.
“If you look at the state this union was in when Ian walked through the doors five and a half years ago, it was a union at war with itself,” Cosslett said.
“Within five years, he drove a complete change in the way this organisation works.
“Across every part of the game, Ian’s personality and values have been able to create that trust and respect that now exists.”
England have lost just one game since Eddie Jones replaced Lancaster. David Rogers/Getty Images
Reflecting on his time at the RFU helm, and looking to the future, Ritchie said: “This job is a 24/7 constant. What’s exhilarating about it is you achieve something and feel good about that but then it’s straight onto what’s the next deal. It is never-ending.
“Obviously I thought seriously about staying on for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and with the situation after 2015 and seeing the situation with Eddie Jones through.
“But you need a good time in terms of transition for the union.”
He added: “My wife has put the order in for the shepherd’s hut and the amateur whittling devices so that I can be sent to the bottom of the garden as opposed to quality time together. But this is a very personal decision to retire.”
Cosslett claimed the RFU will be able to cherry-pick the best talents in replacing Ritchie.
“Already I’ve even had messages [on Thursday] morning from a few people I didn’t expect to hear from ever again,” he said.
“There aren’t many people that tick all the boxes. But we’ll look hard.
“I expect to have a high-quality shortlist in reasonably good order and in reasonably short time.
“We’ll also put together the selection panel in the next few days.
“We could do with another Ian, quite frankly, but I’m not sure they’ve cloned him.”
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