Ian Ritchie: Departing RFU boss says English rugby is in a 'very strong place'

Stuart Lancaster and Ian Ritchie
Stuart Lancaster led England at the 2015 World Cup and was replaced by Eddie Jones

Ian Ritchie says he still rues England's "horrendous" exit from the 2015 World Cup, but believes English rugby is in a "very strong place" as he leaves the Rugby Football Union.

Ritchie will retire this summer after five years as chief executive of the governing body.

"I hope I have left it in a better place than it was," he told BBC Sport.

"It's been a privilege. It's a schoolboy dream to do these sort of things."

Ritchie, formerly chief executive of Wimbledon, joined the RFU at the end of 2011, and inherited a union in turmoil and a team struggling after a scandal-filled World Cup in New Zealand.

Along with head coach Stuart Lancaster, Ritchie repaired the image and governance of the organisation before the home World Cup in 2015.

But England were knocked out of that tournament at the pool stage, and Ritchie faced calls to stand down.

"It was horrendous," he said.

"The World Cup was a massive disappointment. But I had a stubborn streak about sorting out what happened post-2015, and I feel I have helped deliver on some of that.

"There were many positive things about what was happening at the RFU anyway during the course of 2015.

"The immediate thing was finding Stuart's successor, so I got on a plane to Cape Town and decided Eddie [Jones] was the right man for the job."

England lifting the six nations trophy
Eddie Jones has won 17 of his 18 games in charge of the England team

England have won back-to-back Six Nations titles under Jones, but Ritchie says he has no regrets about giving Lancaster and his assistants six-year contract extensions in 2014.

"I wouldn't do anything different. Notice periods and break clauses were all in the contracts. We all felt it was a good idea for Stuart not to have to concentrate on the contracts," he added.

"I don't have regrets about that, but I certainly have regrets - as we all do - about what happened on the pitch. But that's sport, that's what happens.

"Stuart and the coaching staff all now have fantastic jobs and good luck to them, because they are highly talented, committed people, and the margins are so small."

RFU chairman Andy Cosslett will lead the search for Ritchie's successor, and says they will "attract the best" candidates to the position.

"Ian has done a fantastic job and we wish him nothing but the best," Cosslett told BBC Sport.

"He has transformed the finances of the union - we have never been in a stronger position - we are one of the few sports raising our participation numbers, and a lot of that is to his credit.

"He has signed a landmark agreement with the Premiership clubs, and he has been a great vanguard for the women's game. Everywhere you look he has left his paw prints on this union."

Ritchie added: "England, economically, from a rugby strength point of view, from a playing point of view, I think we are in a very, very strong place.

"We just need to maximise that."

With England ranked second in the world in the men's game, Ritchie admits part of him would have wanted to oversee the side's bid to win the World Cup in Japan in 2019.

"I am optimistic and confident, the preparation I am sure will be first rate, the players are more experienced and battle-hardened," he said.

"I would love to be there, but it's two and a half years away, and the golf course is calling."

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