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Stuart Lancaster could be permanent England manager before end of Six Nations


The Rugby Football Union will decide on whether Stuart Lancaster is the right man to lead England on a full-time basis before the end of his RBS 6 Nations audition.

New RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie confirmed today that Lancaster, who is currently in charge on an interim basis, will be interviewed for the permanent position before the end of the championship.

England play France in Paris a week on Sunday and finish their campaign at home to Ireland on March 17.

Ritchie wants to make an appointment within the next three weeks and he will play a lead role in the selection of the new head coach, taking advice from a panel that includes Sir Ian McGeechan, Conor O'Shea, Richard Hill and Rob Andrew.

Lancaster is the only candidate to confirm he has applied for the role of Martin Johnson's permanent successor, although Nick Mallett, Eddie O'Sullivan and John Kirwan have all been linked to the job.

Ritchie said: "We are going to see Stuart while the Six Nations is under way. Stuart knows that.

"We have tried to do it at a time that is most convenient to Stuart.

"I appreciate it puts more pressure on Stuart because he has the day job to getting on with. It is helpful to be able to do that so we can move the process on.

"Timetable-wise I would hope, believe, we should be in a situation to do it (make an appointment) by the end, towards the end, of the Six Nations."

Lancaster has impressed RFU executives since taking over the England reins from Johnson, who stood down as head coach in the wake of a disastrous World Cup campaign.

Featuring a new-look team and led by a new captain in Chris Robshaw, England opened the Six Nations with wins against Scotland and Italy.

England fell to a 19-12 defeat to Wales last weekend but produced an encouraging performance that helped restore a pride in the national team, despite the final result.

Lancaster has also been praised by Twickenham executives for his work off the field in forging positive relationships with sponsors and media as part of the RFU's so-called "reputational damage rebuild plan".

But Ritchie must weigh up Lancaster's impact with the greater international and World Cup experience of those thought to be on the shortlist.

"I think Stuart has done a fantastic job," Ritchie said. "I think he's clearly entered a very difficult position, he's done a lot of things that you could point to that we would all agree are the right things to have done.

"If you talk to him, and I've managed to spend some time with him, he is a an impressive person.

"Selection, however, is all about comparisons. What we need to look at with regard to Stuart is how does Stuart stack up against the other candidates?

"This is a comparative exercise. What Stuart has undoubtedly done is, by the strength of what he's achieved, put himself on the list. He's rightly applied, I think it's great he has applied.

"It's always a good situation if you've got strong internal candidates as well as external candidates.

"But it's comparative, how does he compare with the other people on the list.

"How do you compare enormous international experience with relatively limited international experience?

"How do you compare club experience with that and management styles of certain coaches? How does it work in terms of team selection, not just on the pitch but in terms of coaches that work with you.

"These are all things we are going to have go through with the people we interview."

Ritchie's advisory panel - known as the 153 committee - will help crystallise those thoughts before he ultimately takes a recommendation to the RFU board.

McGeechan and O'Shea have been nominated as representatives of the Aviva Premiership clubs while Andrew's involvement is controversial, given his role in the departures of Johnson and, before him, Brian Ashton.

"I couldn't be happier with the group of people who are helping with the advice, but it's advice," Ritchie said.

"We've had several meetings already to discuss what are we looking for. But it's advice.

"As far as the selection of the head coach is concerned, this is an RFU appointment and this individual reports directly to me.

"I would expect to be the person who is in the lead in suggesting and recommending this appointment and it needs to go to the RFU board as a recommendation for conclusion."

Ritchie joined the RFU on Monday from the All England Club, where he had run the Wimbledon Championships for the last six years and he held a seat on the boards of Wembley Stadium and the Football League.

The 58-year-old Yorkshireman accepts his rugby experience is limited but he does not believe that should hinder his role in recommending or managing the England head coach.

"I appreciate I haven't got the rugby background but I usually assume when you get down to shortlists, most of the people on a shortlist can do the job," Ritchie said.

"From my point of view, it's a hugely important personal relationship. I know what I'm not going to do but what I am going to do is support an individual and build a relationship with him. But I hope I can add value."