After Lancaster, new England rugby coach must stand up to RFU
Stuart Lancaster's replacement must have the courage to challenge Ian Ritchie on issues such as overseas players
First Sam Burgess, and now Stuart Lancaster, but while the former has returned to rugby league and a six-figure salary with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Lancaster leaves his post as England coach and steps into the unknown.
Nearly four years after taking charge of England, Lancaster tendered his resignation and spoke in honest and dignified terms about how ultimately he had fallen short. In truth, he should never have been appointed to the role by the RFU but they were in search of a safe pair of hands after the fiasco of the 2011 World Cup.
"It will be a clean break for Stuart," said Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the RFU and a man who many England fans would also like to see depart. In his defence, however, while the national team has not performed to expectations on Ritchie's watch, the finances of the game in England is in rude health and it's questionable what purpose his resignation would serve.
But what Ritchie must do in the coming days is appoint a coach with a proven track record of success. And that means looking outside England. Michael Chieka, Jake White and Eddie Jones are all believed to be on the shortlist drawn up by Ritchie and his review panel, who have been poring over the detritus of England's disastrous World Cup and are due to disclose their findings next week.
"The most important thing is to get the right person," explained Ritchie. "It's very important we get a head coach of proven international experience."
Asked at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon if the right person could ever be a foreignter, Ritchie replied: "It doesn't rule out a foreign coach, it doesn't rule out an English coach. The nationality is not important, getting the right coach is important....I don't think we should be inhibited."
Ritchie was also asked about the shambolic Sam Burgess saga and he said didn't find it "in any way embarrassing". That was a bizarre response given that the RFU enthusiastically facilitated his move from Australian rugby league in the confident belief he would be a star at union. He wasn't and last week Burgess fled back to league, one year into his three-year contract with Bath.
Ritchie's refusal to accept any blame for the bungled Burgess move doesn't reflect well on him or the RFU, and he was similarly pig-headed when asked whether England would relax their rule on not considering overseas players for selection.
"The current situation on overseas players not being selected unless in exceptional circumstances is not, in my view, an impediment on the team's performance at the World Cup," he declared. "That will remain in place for the new head coach."
To utter such a statement reveals that Ritchie either doesn't know much about rugby or he's unable to face reality. Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage was the only English flanker capable of matching the specific skills of Wales's Sam Warburton and Australia's David Pocock and Michael Hooper, and his omission from the World Cup proved crucial to the outcome of both games.
It also underlines the fact that whoever does get the England job must be a man with a mind of his own, a coach willing to challenge the RFU's short-sightedness on his own terms. Mike Cheika did that with the Australia Rugby Union last year when he became coach of the Wallabies; they weren't picking overseas-based players at the time and Cheika overturned the ruling, selecting Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell who were both hugely influential in helping Australia reach the World Cup final.
Jake White is also not afraid to speak to his mind, and asked by Sky Sports on Wednesday evening about his name being linked to the England job, the 52-year-old - currently coaching Montpellier in France - replied: "I've said before, if the RFU were genuine about picking a foreign coach and considered me to be the right man for the job, it would be naive of me to tell you I wasn't interested...let's wait and see."