London – Stuart Lancaster's future with England will be decided before the end of his Six Nations 'audition', new Rugby Fooball Union (RFU) chief executive Ian Ritchie said Thursday.
Lancaster, appointed interim coach for the tournament after Martin Johnson resigned following England's disastrous World Cup in New Zealand, now faces an interview for the permanent post sometime within the next three weeks.
The leading English contender for the role, Lancaster is the only candidate to have announced publicly he's applied for the job, with his rivals thought to include former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett.
Lancaster, the former coach of England's reserve Saxons has so far won two of his three Tests in charge after victories away to Scotland and Italy were followed by a 19-12 loss, albeit with a much improved performance, to World Cup semi-finalists Wales at Twickenham last weekend.
England are away to France on Sunday week before concluding their Six Nations campaign against Ireland at Twickenham on March 17.
It had been thought the RFU would wait until the end of the tournament before interviewing potential coaches, with a view to having a full-time successor to 2003 World Cup-winning captain Johnson in place by the time of England's tour of South Africa in June.
But Ritchie, speaking at Twickenham on Thursday, said: “We are going to see Stuart while the Six Nations is underway. Stuart knows that.
“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,” he added.
“There are some things that are driven by chronology as much as anything else and the head coach appointment is obviously top of the list.”
Ritchie also revealed the members of a four-man advisory panel who would assist him in selecting a new coach.
They are Bath boss and former Scotland and British Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan, Harlequins' director of rugby and former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea, ex-England flanker Richard Hill and, controversially, the RFU's Rob Andrew.
“I am delighted with the four people,” said Ritchie, previously chief executive of the Wimbledon tennis championships, who took up his new position on Monday after months of administrative upheaval at Twickenham following the acrimonious exit of former chief executive John Steele.
“I think they have an excellent range of experience and background.
“Let me also make it clear too this is an advisory panel, not the selection panel,” said Ritchie, who stressed he would make the ultimate recommendation to the RFU board.
“As far as the selection of the head coach is concerned, this individual reports directly to me.”
Ritchie refused to reveal how many applications the RFU had received, saying only: “I'm really pleased with the candidates we have got.”
As for Lancaster, he added: “I think Stuart has done a fantastic job. I think he's clearly entered a very difficult position. If you talk to him, he is a an impressive person.
“Selection, however, is all about comparisons.
“What Stuart has undoubtedly done is, by the strength of what he's achieved, put himself on the list. But how does he compare with other people on the list?”
Andrew was widely criticised for seemingly disclaiming any responsibility for England's World Cup campaign and the performance of the RFU's elite rugby department, of which he was the head, is now being reviewed.
Many pundits feel the former England fly-half, now the RFU's professional rugby director, should have no involvement in picking the next head coach given his role in the messy exit of former coach Brian Ashton and the subsequent appointment of Johnson.
However, Ritchie said: “My view is it's absolutely essential and helpful to have Rob on the panel, because of his background and experience and because the department he is running has to interface with what we are going to do.” – Sapa-AFP