England could see a first foreign head coach installed as Stuart Lancaster’s successor – but the contentious overseas player selection policy is set to stay.
It is understood there are currently no plans to change England’s approach. It remains with an “exceptional circumstances” clause, covering areas such as injuries, suspensions and sudden retirements.
The likes of South African Jake White, New Zealander Wayne Smith and Australian Eddie Jones are among those being touted to take over from Lancaster, who relinquished his role on Wednesday following England’s failed World Cup campaign.
Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has declared that the search is on for a new boss of “proven international experience”, which would appear to suggest the overseas market will be England’s stopping point.
“To be clear, this is still a restriction that says players who are playing overseas will not be selected unless in exceptional circumstances. That is the current arrangement and agreement,” Ritchie said.
“I’ve said before I think it’s right, and I do agree with that policy. I do not think that was an impediment to the end result of what happened at the World Cup.
“The player situation is related to many things. How do you get access, a whole raft of things that is about partialities and sustain the English game. I don’t think it is connected to the position of the coach.
“I’ve not excluded English coaches, I am merely saying we would look at international coaches as well.
“I think that is quite different to players. That is based on practicality of access and maintaining the strength of the English game. We want to see English players playing in England.”
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning supremo Sir Clive Woodward, though, has questioned moves to potentially recruit a foreign coach, while continuing not to look at individuals like Clermont Auvergne full-back and current European player of the year Nick Abendanon and Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Woodward said: “At Wednesday’s press conference, Ritchie confirmed he will lead the search for the next England coach, that the next England coach will report to him and that he will appoint someone with international coaching experience.
“I would love to know the specifics behind this. So we can’t pick players who play abroad, but we can employ coaches who come from abroad? How ridiculous.”
England’s selection policy took effect after the 2011 World Cup, although it is currently a stance adopted by just two major nations – England and world champions New Zealand.
Australia also operated with a similar selection outlook, but head coach Michael Cheika oversaw a change that now means overseas-based players with at least 60 caps and seven years’ experience with an Australian Super Rugby team can be picked. Toulon backs Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell were among the Wallabies’ star World Cup performers.
While Lancaster has gone, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt will keep their assistant coach roles as the RFU seeks a new head coach, who will have the authority to compose his own backroom staff.
England exited the World Cup at the pool stages last month, becoming the worst-performing host nation in tournament history.
But Ritchie has refused to follow Lancaster out of the Twickenham gates, receiving full RFU board backing to conduct the latest recruitment drive.
“I’m the chief executive, I run the organisation, of course I feel personally about what’s gone on,” Ritchie added. “It’s equally important that I continue to deliver for the organisation and move it forward. I take accountability and responsibility for that, and I am grateful to the RFU board for asking me to do that.
“I don’t duck the accountability and responsibility, but I think it’s a matter for the chairman and the board as well whether my situation is as it is.
“I think I am still qualified [to continue], I’m the chief executive of the organisation.”