England risk missing out on the chance to recruit Warren Gatland as their head coach after the Rugby Football Union revealed Eddie Jones' successor would not be appointed until after the World Cup.
Jones is contracted until 2021 but there is a break clause enabling his removal if the team under-performs at Japan 2019, while the Australian himself has made repeated claims that his future is uncertain.
According to acting RFU chief executive Nigel Melville, next year's summer tour to Japan appears to be the desired transition point for the incoming coach with Jones taking charge of the Six Nations before departing.
However, Melville insists there is an alternative plan ready in case England suffer another World Cup collapse.
While Twickenham plots an increasingly confused route to succession, France and the Lions are in hot pursuit of Gatland, the most successful coach in Six Nations history who recently clinched a third Grand Slam as Wales boss.
Gatland and his outstanding assistant Shaun Edwards are both available after the World Cup, but Melville insists the Kiwi's availability is "not a concern".
"The Warren thing – is Warren going to do the Lions? Is Warren going to France? Is Warren coming to England? Is Warren doing all sorts?" Melville said.
"At this point that is not a concern to me. The concern to me is what we are doing going forward. There's more than one coach out there who we are looking at.
"I took Warren to Wasps, so I'm quite well aware of his talent. I do speak to Warren. I absolutely understand that he's a very talented guy and has a fantastic resume.
"We will decide what is happening with Eddie post-World Cup. We have got a list of people who we think could take over. It's a small list because there aren't lots of coaches out there who are capable of coaching England."
Jones has suggested he does not expect to remain England head coach beyond the World Cup, claiming his future is in the hands of Twickenham's hierarchy.
The RFU – soon to be led by incoming chief executive Bill Sweeney – will not be making any announcements before the World Cup.
"We have pushed it back because we don't want distractions pre-World Cup," Melville said.
"It's to let Eddie get on with it and to stop people speculating on who is in and who is out and all the rest of it.
"We don't need that, I don't think anybody needs that and the incoming coaches don't need that."
Meanwhile, Jones has added to the doubt over his England position by refusing to rule out taking over from Michael Cheika as Australia boss – a post he held from 2001 to 2005.
"I don't think I would ever say 'never', but it's not something I have really thought about. One thing Australia are not short of is talent," Jones said.
Jones also insists he has no interest in leading the elite of British and Irish rugby to South Africa in 2021, in the process taking a dig at Gatland who was in charge of the previous two tours.
"The last thing I want to do is spend eight weeks in a blazer," Jones told the Brisbane Courier Mail.
"That's an ambassador job. I'm a coach. I'd rather coach the Queensland Sheffield Shield (cricket) team."