Ian Ritchie has fully backed England head coach Eddie Jones over his selection of New Zealand-born pair Willi Heinz and Jason Woodward, with the departing chief executive of the Rugby Football Union praising the Australian for his efforts since lifting the team off rock bottom after the “difficult” 2015 Rugby World Cup failure.
The 63-year-old Ritchie announced on Thursday that he will retire from his role at the end of the summer, despite the allure of the next World Cup in Japan in two and a half years’ time, because it is “a good time in terms of transition for the union.” He does so with England ranked second in the world, back-to-back Six Nations champions and, under Jones as head coach, having equalled the record winning streak after they matched New Zealand’s achievement of winning 18 consecutive matches.
After insisting that he doesn’t regret appointing Stuart Lancaster as head coach back in 2012 despite England’s pool stage exit in their home World Cup, Ritchie explained that the search for a new head coach that resulted in Jones being prised away from the Stormers in South Africa was one the reinvigorated him, but added that Jones has surpassed all expectations over his first 18 months in charge.
“I felt very driven after the World Cup despite all the disappointments in 2015 that there was a responsibility to say what are you going to do next?” Ritchie said on Thursday. “One felt Eddie was the right person for the job – did the trip to Cape Town – but one never thought he would win 18 games on the bounce.
“That is testament to what he is and what he brings. That is one of the reasons you feel it is the right time.”
This trust in Jones’ methods has brought immediate success in the form of a Six Nations Grand Slam last season, a first series win in Australia in the 3-0 summer whitewash and the retention of the Six Nations earlier this year.
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