Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, still thinks England have it in them to win the World Cup on home soil next year – which is probably just as well, given his decision to hand six-year contract extensions to the red-rose coaching team shortly before the start of an unfulfilling autumn series.
Ritchie described the narrow but painful defeats by New Zealand and South Africa as “frustrating and disappointing”, but added: “The margins are pretty small at world-class level and we need to make sure we’re on the right side of the margin in every game.
“We have a dedicated bunch of coaches, a committed bunch of players and an RFU that is doing everything it can to support them towards the objective. I absolutely believe we are in a good position looking ahead. Nothing that happened during the autumn changed my opinion.”
While he tempered his optimism by acknowledging that it was “not an accident that we lost four out of four against the All Blacks” – three failures in New Zealand in June preceded the recent reverse at Twickenham – he mounted a strong defence of his decision to tie Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt to long-term coaching contracts stretching past the 2019 World Cup.
“We didn’t want the coaching team to be worrying about their next job while still in their current one,” he said. “You want them 100 per cent focused on the World Cup, not thinking about what they’re going to do the following January. We gave them security and comfort and made sure they knew that we felt they were good coaches.
“There is no lack of commitment because of the contracts: no one is sitting back and saying they’re not going to bother. The coaches we have are not like that. People work better when they are confident about their futures.”
England’s next game is a Six Nations opener with Wales in Cardiff. Ritchie refused to give the game a “must win” tag, but he did say the national team’s “learning phase” was over.
“We’re right in believing that we have to judge ourselves against the best sides,” he said, “and the latest verdict is not satisfactory. But there is no yawning chasm.”Reuse content