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No easy route back into the Rugby Football Union for Stuart Lancaster

Published 22/03/2016

Stuart Lancaster, pictured, appears unlikely to return to the Rugby Football Union
Stuart Lancaster, pictured, appears unlikely to return to the Rugby Football Union

England chief Ian Ritchie has hinted against a Rugby Football Union (RFU) return for axed World Cup boss Stuart Lancaster.

Joe Lydon resigned as England's head of international player development last week, with the RFU now reviewing the structure of its performance set-up.

Lancaster guided England's stars of tomorrow as England's elite rugby director from 2008, rising to head coach in late 2011 before being unseated after the autumn's failed World Cup.

Chief executive Ritchie refused to rule out an RFU role for Lancaster, but suggested the organisation will seek fresh blood to replace Lydon.

"We came to the view at the time that it was best to make the clean break and that is what happened," said Ritchie.

"Nobody is ever going to ignore Stuart in terms of what he has done and what he has achieved for rugby but the key thing is to look at the structure looking forward."

Ritchie hailed England's first RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam since 2003 as perfect vindication for installing the union's first foreign head coach in Eddie Jones.

The Grand Slam also proved Jones' installation of Dylan Hartley as captain a shrewd move, Ritchie asserted, the Northampton hooker starting to move past his litany of prior suspensions.

"Yes I think to win the Grand Slam first time around is vindication," said Ritchie, of new boss Jones.

"We wanted a highly experienced coach with international background and he has brought that clarity in terms of communication.

"There were many positive things that Stuart did. Eddie paid tribute to that and that's the right thing to do.

"Eddie and I did have a conversation about trust over Dylan as captain, because of the perspective and the circumstances.

"On the other hand Dylan's undoubted leadership qualities, the way he's dealt with all those circumstances, that have been uncomfortable for him, and the fact he has got those leadership abilities, and the fact he's rather a good hooker, you take all those into account.

"I'm glad for Dylan, I think he's done a fantastic job as captain."

In a wide-ranging discussion, Ritchie pledged Lydon's departure will not affect the RFU's role in Team GB's Sevens side for Rio 2016, coached by Simon Amor.

Ritchie also confirmed the RFU is taking a "watching brief" over the future Ministry of Defence site Kneller Hall in Twickenham, which could yet become England's high-performance centre.

Rubber-stamping England Saxons' two-match tour to face the Emerging Springboks this summer, Ritchie said the RFU is yet to finalise the coaching staff for their second-string, with Exeter's Rob Baxter the front-runner.

The summer's Saxons squad would be permed from mainly Under-23 stars as England put one eye on the future.

Rejecting renewed calls from top officials in the southern hemisphere for moves towards a global rugby calendar, Ritchie also insisted it is not time for promotion and relegation in the Six Nations.

Italy suffered their 11th Wooden Spoon in 17 years, and this season endured their worst championship since their debut - but Ritchie called for the Six Nations to remain ring-fenced.

"The global calendar is the really knottiest and most difficult problem," said Ritchie.

"Do I see an aggregated calendar with us starting to play rugby in the summer? Frankly I don't think so.

You look at certain benchmarks that are the situation that for all of us fund the game. We would only change it if there's a balance of advantage for us in terms of either player welfare or economics.

"It's up to them to say why they want to change it. And if it revolves around economics for them, well that's fairly clear where their priority is.

"I'm sure Italy would be disappointed with their Six Nations. Since they've moved to the Stadio Olimpico they've certainly grown the game and the interest.

"You dabble with care in terms of how you change certain formats that work.

"The way the Six Nations works at the moment, there's a contract with the BBC and ITV to keep it on that basis. That's the format that they're engaged with."

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