Ian Ritchie says he has no regrets over hiring Stuart Lancaster as head coach despite England’s disastrous home World Cup campaign in 2015, after announcing he will retire from his role as chief executive of the Rugby Football Union at the end of the summer.
Ritchie, who was appointed in 2011 and took office a year later, appointed Lancaster in one of his first acts as chief executive – opting against giving the job to the South African Nick Mallett who intended to bring the now New Zealand assistant Wayne Smith on board.
Under Lancaster England became the first host nation of a World Cup to be eliminated in the pool stages after a late defeat by Wales and a thumping at the hands of Australia. Lancaster left the role soon after and Ritchie flew to Cape Town to secure the services of Eddie Jones, under whom England won their first 17 matches.
But Ritchie stood by his decision to overlook coaching big-hitters such as Mallett and Smith. “To be clear I have no regrets about Stuart at all, and I really feel for Stuart and what he put in and the whole coaching team but Eddie has that knack when it comes to fine margins,” said Ritchie. “Of course you think about [turning down Mallett and Smith], of course you think, and hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Stuart is a highly talented, highly committed coach.
“At the end of 2011 all those things were under some attack within the union as a whole never mind the England team. The appointment of Stuart was consistent with that at the time. I still think Stuart did a huge number of positive things, but the ultimate is what we did.”
Instead, Ritchie chose to lament that 28-25 defeat by Wales in which England let a 10-point lead slip. “I will say, I look back and the first 60 minutes against Wales was heading according to plan, the last 20 minutes didn’t,” he added. “Like all people who lose, you need to go onto what to do to make sure you win next time.
“That motivated me. We did try to deal with that, but you’ll never forget losing to Wales and Australia. [The World Cup] was a huge opportunity and we chose not to take it. But you then move on and deal with it.
“As a regret, a home World Cup, not getting out of the pool stages, of course, it was huge. We thought it would be the chance of a lifetime, and it didn’t happen. It was a huge shame but it was hugely important to move on, and Eddie and his coaching team, the results speak for themselves.”
Ritchie’s decision to announce his retirement on Wednesday came as a surprise but the 63-year-old believes the timing was right with the RFU in excellent financial health, England ranked second in the world and Jones at the helm.
“Obviously I thought seriously about staying on for Japan, and the situation after 2015 and seeing the situation with Eddie through,” he said. “But you need a good time in terms of transition for the union.
“My abiding line is what’s best for the union, when’s the best timing. I think it’s a good time for the union to have a new chief executive to see things through Japan and into 2023.”