Ian Ritchie denies hypocrisy accusations after England select Denny Solomona

Gerard Meagher
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Denny Solomona has scored 10 tries in 13 appearances for Sale Sharks since controversially crossing codes in December to earn himself an England call-up. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Dave Thompson/Getty Images</span>
Denny Solomona has scored 10 tries in 13 appearances for Sale Sharks since controversially crossing codes in December to earn himself an England call-up. Photograph: Dave Thompson/Getty Images

The Rugby Football Union chief executive, Ian Ritchie, has denied accusations of hypocrisy after Denny Solomona’s inclusion in England’s squad for the summer tour of Argentina. Ritchie is currently lobbying for the extension of the residency rule to five years – it is three at present – but sees no issue with Eddie Jones selecting the New Zealand-born winger, who became eligible only last month.

Solomona has scored 10 tries in 13 appearances for Sale since controversially crossing codes in December and, if World Rugby votes to extend the qualification period at its council meeting in May, he would be the last England international to become eligible under the 36-month rule.

He has represented Samoa at rugby league and previously said “his heart is not for England” before declaring in March his intentions to play for Jones’s side.

The RFU has an agreement with the Premiership clubs that it does not pick players based overseas but whereas the French federation has stated that it will not award any new caps to non-passport holders, Ritchie does not consider it necessary for his organisation to create its own rules regarding residency.

“I don’t see it as hypocritical. I simply see it as here is a rule, we adhere to this rule and we also believe it is right to change it and have been lobbying to change it,” he said. “When it changes we will adhere to that rule when it is changed. End of.

“We checked carefully that Denny hits the current qualification. Why therefore would one not pick him? Eddie picks who he wants to play from a rugby point of view. If he qualifies and is currently qualified, there is nothing at all inconsistent with saying, ‘That’s fine, you have to pick him.’ We feel that down the line, five years is a perfectly decent period and we have been fairly public about that. I’m a great believer in sticking to the rules. We will stick to the rules once we have changed the rules.”

Ritchie revealed last month that the RFU was backing proposals for the Six Nations to be truncated to six weeks, which has been met with opposition by a number of England internationals, including Joe Marler. Asked if the players had since been consulted, Ritchie said: “No. There wasn’t a direct discussion. We have a clear view within England about player welfare. A combination of the clubs and England have been very good about how we deal with player welfare.”

Reducing the Six Nations fits into the planned changes for the global calendar from 2020 onwards, when Premiership Rugby hopes to extend the domestic season to 10 months. Jones was asked about those proposals on Thursday but brushed off the question by reiterating that he will leave his role after the 2019 World Cup and Ritchie’s intention is to identify a successor from within England, rather than from overseas again.

“One of the challenges for anybody is to get sustainable success and a smooth transition,” he said. “With Eddie’s current stated position we have a chance to deal with that. You would almost certainly need to look at what you have in place in 2019 to ensure that handover.”

Ritchie also revealed that, despite Newcastle’s successful bid to host the 2019 Champions Cup final at St James’ Park, there are no plans to stage any England Test matches away from Twickenham. “I don’t think that position has changed because 15,000 debenture holders have a view about that,” he said. “And the odd isolated game [elsewhere], I’m not sure that would have a significant impact on growing the game.”

What to read next