Ian Ritchie has announced his surprise retirement as chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, leaving the governing body in far healthier shape than when he arrived and with his reputation enhanced as the man who delivered Eddie Jones.
A popular employer at the RFU, the 63-year-old Ritchie, who assumed the role in February 2012, informed the board of directors and staff members of his decision at lunchtime on Wednesday and will stay in the role after England’s tour to Argentina.
Taking charge amid chaos after the 2011 World Cup debacle in New Zealand – the extent of which was laid bare in a series of leaked reports – Ritchie restored stability to the RFU after the internal strife that had led to the departure of his predecessor, John Steele, the previous June.
Despite England’s shambolic performance on the pitch, Ritchie was also instrumental in delivering the 2015 Rugby World Cup which generated the RFU £228.1m in revenue, and earned a £100,000 bonus, taking his salary that year to £700,000. His greatest accomplishment however was securing Jones as head coach in November 2015 after flying to Cape Town to convince the Australian to leave a role he had just started with the Stormers.
Where Ritchie earns praise for getting his man in Jones – under whom England have won 18 of their 19 matches – Stuart Lancaster’s appointment to the role in 2012 is a blot on his copybook. Lancaster restored credibility to the England side but his limitations as an international head coach were exposed when they became the first host nation of a World Cup to be eliminated in the pool stages. The RFU’s decision not to keep Lancaster on in some capacity did not sit well either.
Nonetheless, the appointment of Jones has been a shrewd one and Ritchie leaves with England as back-to-back Six Nations champions. The England women’s and under-20s teams are also reigning Six Nations and world champions while the Professional Game Agreement with PRL this year, worth more £200m to Premiership clubs over the next eight years, can also be considered a feather in Ritchie’s cap.
As the head of the richest union in world rugby, Ritchie has been accused of some commercially-driven exercises – he has steadfastly refused to take England matches away from Twickenham because of the match-day revenue that would be lost – but he has shown admirable commitment to increase participation through the country and he has been a key driver of the RFU’s £50m investment in 100 new artificial pitches. The RFU intends to announce Ritchie’s successor by the end of the summer.