England have missed targets and finished an unacceptable second in the RBS 6 Nations once more, but Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has confidence in head coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Ritchie maintains Lancaster’s men can win the tournament, which they will host in September and October, despite an unsatisfactory runners-up spot in the Six Nations for a fourth time in a row.
England finished behind Ireland by a difference of six points, falling short despite a heroic 55-35 defeat of France last Saturday.
“Four years as runners-up is not acceptable and we are not happy with how that came about,” Ritchie said.
“We should be, as a country, winning more in terms of Grand Slams, Six Nations championships, other things.
“We remain confident, optimistic, of belief that we can do well in the Rugby World Cup.
“What happened on Saturday reinforced elements of that and (we) remain absolutely confident, happy and committed with the team that we’ve got on the coaching staff.”
The RFU had targeted a place in the world’s top two at this point in a big year for English rugby, but Lancaster’s men are ranked fourth, with reigning world champions New Zealand first.
Ritchie defended the aspiration, saying: “Targets are always a helpful thing, but they’re not the be-all and end-all.”
“You’ve got to look around at the totality of what’s going on, where we are and what we believe.
“Have we missed some targets? Well, yes. We wanted to win the Six Nations. We wanted to be ranked two in the world.
“I still think the underlying situation is one that is important.
“I’m not trying to be unrealistic about that, through rose coloured spectacles. I’m just trying to be balanced.”
Asked if he had any regrets on giving Lancaster a six-year contract last year which lasts until 2020, Ritchie said: “No.”
Lancaster has been in charge for four Six Nations competitions and finished second in each one after another near miss.
An opening win in Wales stoked belief, but the home triumph over Italy was followed by a loss to Ireland in Dublin which ceded the championship initiative.
England finished with wins over Scotland and France, but could not overturn a 26-point deficit to Ireland on the final weekend.
“The Irish deserved the win because of what they did over the five matches,” Ritchie added.
“We did not do enough over the five matches. There’s no point in bleating about it.
“We had opportunities. Let’s be clear – it was stuff that was in our own hands.
“We simply didn’t take opportunities, didn’t do what we should have done, were not clever enough during parts of the game in order to deserve to win.
“I don’t think we’re in a development phase. We should be going into every game, doing our utmost to win and to win well.
“We’ve got the resources, the talent, the ability. Saturday was a fantastic example of that.
“We’ve got to make sure we come out for the World Cup and deliver.”
England face Wales and Australia in World Cup Group A, which kicks off against Fiji at Twickenham on September 18.
Ritchie added: “I’m absolutely sure when we get to the World Cup it’s going to be small margins that will make the difference between winning and losing. It usually boils down to who delivers on the day.”
“Are we in the frame enough to win it? Yes, I think we’ve got enough talent.
“I’ve got to think and believe – and I know the team and Stuart believe that - that we can win this.
“We should be able to win it. Will we do it? Then that depends on our application and execution doing the games. It’s frankly as simple as that.”
The fine margins which Ritchie discussed mean it is entirely possible England could exit the tournament at the group phase, with defeats to Australia and Wales.
“We’ve got a few hard games, so we’ll certainly be up to speed by the time we play, if we get through,” he said.
Ritchie believes the effect of playing at Twickenham could have a major impact.
Ritchie added: “We’re in a really tough group. We all know it’s going to be difficult.
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