Caretaker's case has been strengthened by Paris win, says Ritchie


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The Independent Online

Acutely aware of the danger of leaving himself a hostage to fortune, the new Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie yesterday reacted to the outstanding Six Nations victory in France by sticking rigidly to his line on the search for a new England head coach. "It's a big call and a difficult decision," he said when asked whether Stuart Lancaster's remarkably assured performance in the caretaker role had pushed him to the head of the queue. "Winning in Paris, fantastic though it is, does not change the process we're going through to find the best possible candidate."

Ritchie did, however, acknowledge that Lancaster's success over the first four rounds of the tournament had put him firmly in contention. "The win at the weekend was helpful in strengthening his case," he commented, crediting him with giving the side the right values. "He is putting his best foot forward. Is it clear that the team are performing for Stuart? It is very clear. He has been gaining international experience, and going to Paris and winning is a part of that."

Lancaster will have a further opportunity to press his case when England meet Ireland at Twickenham in the final round of championship matches on Saturday. The RFU had originally planned to make a decision before the Ireland game but there has been a change of mind. No announcement will be made this week.

Tom Rees, the brilliant Wasps flanker, would have been a major asset to England under any and every head coach. Sadly, a serious knee injury has forced him into premature retirement at the depressingly early age of 27. Rees confirmed his decision yesterday, saying he would "always think of what might have been".

Incapacitated for much of his career by a series of shoulder injuries, he won 15 caps, played in the 2007 World Cup campaign and had the stamp of a potential England captain. David Young, the current Wasps director of rugby, said the back-rower would be sorely missed. "He is, though, a very resilient and intelligent man," he continued. "Whatever Tom does with his career, he will make a success of it. We will be here to support him in any way we can."

Gregor Townsend, one of the most gifted midfield backs of his generation, will leave the Scotland coaching team at the end of the Six Nations. He has agreed to succeed Sean Lineen as head coach at Glasgow next season.