x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Stuart Lancaster strong contender for England rugby coach

The new appointment will be made before the end of the Six Nations campaign where Lancaster has impressed.

Stuart Lancaster watches over his players during the England training session.
Stuart Lancaster watches over his players during the England training session.

Stuart Lancaster's future with England will be decided before the end of his Six Nations audition, new Rugby Fooball Union chief executive Ian Ritchie said yesterday.

Ritchie confirmed that Lancaster, who is in charge on an interim basis, will be interviewed for the permanent position before the end of the championship. England play France in Paris on March 12 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 successor, although Nick Mallett, Eddie O'Sullivan and John Kirwan have all been linked to the job.

"We are going to see Stuart while the Six Nations is under way. Stuart knows that," Ritchie said. "We have tried to do it at a time that is most convenient to Stuart.

"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 team officials 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."