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RFU chief defends lengthy contracts

Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has defended the six-year contracts given to Stuart Lancaster and his England coaching lieutenants despite a disappointing autumn.

Lancaster, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt agreed extended deals in October lasting until 2020, encompassing two World Cups including next year's global showpiece on home soil.

Ritchie regards the defeats to New Zealand and South Africa and victories over Samoa and Australia in the recent QBE Series as unsatisfactory when viewed in conjunction with the 3-0 series whitewash by the All Blacks in June.

But the Twickenham boss stands by the faith shown in Lancaster and his assistants, insisting the contracts are partly motivated by the desire to ward off potential suitors.

"We didn't want the coaching team to be worried about what their next job is while they are in their current job," Ritchie said.

"We wanted to remove any feelings that their focus may be elsewhere because I believe our coaching team are attractive to other people.

"If you have a group of talented people, there are always other options. That was part of it.

"In the build up to the World Cup, you want the coaching team focused 110 per cent on that and not thinking 'what am I doing in January?'.

"It was about giving security and comfort, and about the broader feeling that we have a really good team who we want to retain. We don't want any short termism.

"Knowing the individuals in question, there is no lack of commitment because of these contracts. They're not like that. I can't think of a more focused and committed group of people.

"Usually people work a bit better when they're focused and committed, but they feel supported and are confident about their longer-term future."

England's autumn was undermined by an injury crisis that robbed them of seven Test British and Irish Lions, including bulldozing centre Manu Tuilagi, while key second row Joe Launchbury was also lost to the treatment room.

Most of the wounded are expected to be available for the opening RBS 6 Nations fixture against Wales in Cardiff on February 6, but the number of casualties has reopened the debate over player welfare.

While Ritchie is concerned by the number of games being played - and their increasing physicality - he insists there is little that can be done with the current global season locked in place until 2019.

"Every rugby team in every match will have injured players, so therefore you have got be pragmatic and get on with it," Ritchie said.

"We have a long term agreement with the clubs and generally it's worked well. Next year it's more defined and there are longer periods in camp.

"We have players coming back from injury, therefore next year we should be stronger not weaker.

"But it is a fact that the global calendar is the way it is until 2019 and I can't see that changing.

"Do the players play too much? That's probably a reasonable assumption, but we just have to deal with it in terms of the next year."

Ritchie, speaking at the RFU's post-autumn briefing, insists that late kick-offs at Twickenham in either the Six Nations or autumn internationals are unlikely, despite the relative success of the 7pm start against Samoa.

He also describes any form of abuse at Twickenham as "totally unacceptable" after referee Nigel Owens was the victim of homophobic taunts during the New Zealand game, resulting in two-year stadium bans for two supporters.

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