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Ian Ritchie: RFU would be honoured if Stuart Lancaster was chosen as Lions coach

England would release Stuart Lancaster for the British Lions if he was chosen to be head coach for the tour to New Zealand in 2017, the Rugby Football Union's chief executive Ian Ritchie has disclosed.

The decision on the coach is due to be made next year and Ritchie said it would be "an honour" if Lancaster was selected - and pointed out that much is likely to depend on England's success in the Rugby World Cup which starts next week.

Lancaster's contract runs until after the 2019 World Cup but Ritchie said the RFU would give him time off if the Lions came calling - as Wales did with Warren Gatland in 2013.

Ritchie, speaking at the Soccerex conference in Manchester, said: "The timetable for looking at Lions coaches is into 2016, so no doubt everyone will evaluate that against the World Cup performance.

"We had Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree as assistant coaches on the last tour and I think it's a great honour to be the Lions coach, so if Stuart was selected and if he wanted to do it, we'd regard it as an honour and of course we'd release him for it."

Earlier this year, Ritchie said a fourth consecutive second-placed finish for England in the Six Nations was "not acceptable" but he would not be drawn on what was the minimum achievement necessary for Lancaster in the RWC.

He added: "I'm not going to deal in hypotheticals. I think we should be going into every game trying to win it and I think that's what we'll try and do. We are in here to try and win the event, we will worry about the hypotheticals afterwards.

"We have won a few games on the bounce at Twickenham. That's very important to sustain that feeling that Twickenham is a place we feel confident and I thought it was a really good performance against what is a really good Ireland team. It looked pretty good to me.

"Knowing the squad and the coaching set-up, they are all very focused on doing their very best to win and I think we have a chance of doing that."

Ritchie added that it would be "a tragedy" for Wales to potentially lose Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb for the tournament due to injury.

"To play in a World Cup is the ultimate for a player and if somebody is going to miss it because of injury, I think it's a tragedy. I hope they get well and recover and get back to playing," he said.

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