Lancaster may be axed even if England win Six Nations

RFU chief executive Ritchie claims interim coach may be axed even if he masterminds successful defence of title

EVEN winning the Six Nations might not be enough to earn interim England head coach Stuart Lancaster the job on a permanent basis, the Rugby Football Union’s new chief executive Ian Ritchie has admitted.

Ritchie (inset) says he has been impressed by former Saxons coach Lancaster but adds that the RFU is seeking the very best candidate, irrespective of nationality, and that recent results will not be all-important.

The former Wimbledon tennis chief, who began his new post this week, indicated that Martin Johnson’s long-term successor could even be appointed before the end of the Six Nations in a fortnight’s time.

That timeframe means the highly-regarded Lancaster, who is due to be interviewed for the role before the championship concludes, could be appointed or discarded regardless of whether he goes on to clinch the title.

Lancaster, 42, has led England to wins over Scotland and Italy and a narrow but lauded defeat against Wales since being handed the reins following Johnson’s resignation in November.

“I think Stuart has done a fantastic job,” said Ritchie. “He has clearly entered in a very difficult position. He’s done a lot of things that we would all agree are the right things to have done. He is an impressive person and has done a great job.

“Selection, however, is all about comparisons. What we need to look at is: how does Stuart stack up against the other candidates?

“What Stuart has undoubtedly done is, by the strength of what he’s achieved, is put himself on the list. I think it’s great that he’s applied. But it’s comparative: how does he compare with the other people on the list? And that’s what we’re going to have to look at.”

Ritchie insists there is no minimum target of wins for Lancaster, saying the appointment would not be based on whether he “wins six out of six, or loses six out of six”.

Former Italy and South Africa coach Nick Mallett, ex-Ireland chief Eddie O’Sullivan and New Zealander John Kirwan are thought to be among the international candidates Ritchie says have an equal chance.

“What I’ve said applies irrespective of nationality,” he added. “The most important thing is: who is the best person? It doesn’t matter what their nationality is.

“Timetable-wise, we should be in a position to do it before or by the end of the Six Nations. Ideally he would be in place for the South Africa tour.”