Stuart Lancaster paid the price for host nation England’s World Cup failure when he resigned as head coach on Wednesday following a Rugby Football Union (RFU) review.
An RFU statement said Lancaster, in charge since April 2012 and under contract until 2020, had “stepped down by mutual consent”.
Jake White, who coached South Africa to World Cup glory in 2007, and Australian Eddie Jones are among the leading contenders to replace Lancaster, along with English coaches Rob Baxter and Mike Ford.
England, who went into the tournament with huge expectations of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time since 2003, failed to reach the knockout phase after defeats at Twickenham by Wales and Australia.
England let a 10-point lead slip to lose 28-25 against Wales and, needing to beat Australia to avoid an embarrassing early elimination, were crushed 33-13 by the Wallabies to become the first England side to go out of a World Cup in the pool stage.
“I ultimately accept and take responsibility for the team’s performance and we have not delivered the results we all hoped for during this tournament,” he said.
Lancaster had been heavily criticised in the wake of England’s flop, notably for selecting inexperienced rugby league convert Sam Burgess who last week turned his back on the code after one season.
Burgess’s selection at centre was widely seen to have backfired with reports that it divided a young and inexperienced squad.
Initially appointed on an interim basis to succeed Martin Johnson and steady the ship after England’s 2011 World Cup debacle highlighted by off-field controversies, disciplinarian Lancaster enjoyed mixed success in charge.
His record of 28 wins, 17 losses and one draw included highs such as beating New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012, along with home wins over Australia in 2013 and 2014, but Six Nations success eluded England who have finished runners-up for the last four seasons.
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, who in March branded England’s failure to win the Six Nations under Lancaster as “unacceptable”, said the search had begun for Lancaster’s successor.
“The Rugby World Cup was hugely disappointing for everyone associated with the England team and the subsequent review into the team’s performance was always intended to be extremely comprehensive, which it has been,” he said.
“Stuart has been fully involved and has given feedback, as well as the other coaches, players, management and a wide variety of people from around the game.
“Following the review, Stuart and I met, where we agreed that he should step down as head coach. This was subsequently ratified by the RFU Board.”
The future of Lancaster’s coaches Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree is unclear.