Lancaster paid the price for England’s abysmal World Cup campaign when he relinquished his post by mutual consent yesterday, leaving the Rugby Football Union (RFU) completely.
Chief executive Ritchie refused to consider his own position, before targeting a head coach of “proven international experience” – leaving Michael Cheika, Eddie Jones and Wayne Smith at the front of a potential hit-list.
“The most important thing is to get the right person,” said Ritchie. “This is a very attractive job within rugby. It’s important we get a head coach of proven international experience. Speed is important, but the right person is more important.”
Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt will keep their assistant coach roles while the RFU seeks a new boss, who will have the authority to compose his own backroom staff.
Ritchie shouldered the burden for England’s World Cup performance ahead of the campaign, saying in September: “You’re the one that takes responsibility for it, because you’re the chief executive.”
England then bombed out of the World Cup at the pool stages, becoming the worst-performing host nation in tournament history.
At a hastily-convened press conference to discuss Lancaster’s departure, however, Ritchie insisted he would spearhead the drive to replace the former Leeds boss at England’s helm.
Ritchie pledged “no inhibitions” in recruiting Lancaster’s replacement, which effectively means the RFU is ready to break the bank and hand their chosen man one of the world’s most lucrative contracts.
Lancaster signed a bumper six-year contract in October 2014, but that deal had a post-World Cup review clause built in, allowing the RFU to negotiate a settlement on his departure.
“I’m the chief executive, I run the organisation, of course I feel personally about what’s gone on,” said Ritchie. “It’s equally important that I continue to deliver for the organisation and move it forward. I take accountability and responsibility for that, and I’m grateful to the RFU board for asking me to do that.
“I don’t duck the accountability and responsibility but I think it’s a matter for the chairman and the board as well whether my situation is as it is. I think I am still qualified [to continue], I’m the chief executive of the organisation.”
Chairman Bill Beaumont immediately leapt to Ritchie’s defence, backing the RFU chief executive to continue in his role despite his previous comments.
“I chaired the RFU board meeting last night where we received Ian’s recommendation,” said Beaumont. “This was accepted by the board and was unanimous. Ian has the full support of the board in recruiting the best coach possible.”
England’s determination to seek a new coach of “proven” Test experience rules out a host of home-grown talents. Exeter’s Rob Baxter and Northampton’s Jim Mallinder are now long shots to contend the vacant England post, given Ritchie’s quickly released criteria.
Ritchie denied any approach from the RFU to Australia boss Michael Cheika at this point, but the Wallabies coach will surely sit high up England’s wish list for a new figurehead.
The RFU chief executive refused to place a timescale on the recruitment process, and hinted England’s assistant coaches would help select an Elite Player Squad (EPS) in January should a new boss not be in post.
The World Cup review panel chaired by Ritchie submitted its findings to the RFU on Tuesday night, before Lancaster agreed to leave his post. Ritchie insisted the findings will remain private, after canvassing the opinions of 59 outside parties, as well as the 12 Aviva Premiership club bosses.
“Despite the many talents that Stuart has, it was right to make a clean break,” said Ritchie. “As far as the assistant coaches are concerned they are under employment and that continues.
“The new head coach will want to have a look at who he has as assistants and how that will work.
“But as far as the moment is concerned the three assistants are under contract and will continue with their jobs.”