The value of an apprenticeship is finally being realised through the achievements of a handful of provincial coaches who were never top players.
Coaches such as Bryce Woodward, Dave Rennie, David Henderson and Milton Haig are now recognised as some of the most promising in the country. None had stellar playing careers but all have served long coaching apprenticeships, potentially changing mind-sets around future appointments.
The notion of good players making good coaches has seemingly held sway in provincial boardrooms around New Zealand in the past decade, with several former All Blacks winning head coaching jobs despite having virtually no experience.
Subconsciously, or deliberately, there was a desire to put former players into top jobs, which is why the five Super 14 teams have recognised names at the helm. Pat Lam, Ian Foster, Mark Hammett, Todd Blackadder and Jamie Joseph all got coaching positions soon after they hung up their boots.
Blackadder, who had three years as head coach of Edinburgh and two seasons with Tasman, gained the most experience of that group before his promotion to the Crusaders.
In comparison to the likes of Haig, Woodward and Rennie, the current Super 14 coaches - with the exception of Foster - are light on experience.
Lam, in particular, had to learn much about coaching while on the job, with his first year in charge of Auckland one of the more turbulent in their recent history.
That pattern of ex-player reaching the top of the coaching tree in short order may now be reviewed by many provincial unions. The value of hiring established coaches who have done their time learning their craft is apparent this season.
Counties Manukau, Northland and Southland have been the surprise packages in the ITM Cup. Rennie's coaching pedigree has been acknowledged for years both through his work with Manawatu and the New Zealand under-20s.
Southland, Northland and Counties Manukau are not loaded with star players but are delivering more than the sum of their component parts - not always in results but certainly in performance, structure and understanding. It's apparent all three of those unions are well coached. The recent appointment of Woodward as Blues assistant coach is a sign attitudes are changing.
The Northland head coach, who managed some first-class action for King Country, has been overlooked in the past for several roles but, through his work with Northland and age-grade national teams, it has become obvious he is a capable and talented coach.
"I think with players who reached a high level, they often have better immediate knowledge around the technical side of coaching," says Woodward.
"But I would say the bigger part of my role is in the art of man management, of setting the right culture. You have to know how to communicate with players; you have to know when to go hard at them, when to back off and how to get through to them.
"I have got 20-plus years business experience where I managed a staff of about 30 and that teaches you a lot about reading people and understanding how to get the best out of them. The ex-player doesn't always have those skills. That's not to say he can't learn them but it takes time."
Haig, who has been coaching provincial sides for the past 10 years, has a similar view. After almost 10 years of coaching at club level, he and Vern Cotter were given the Bay of Plenty development side. They were then promoted to the Steamers first team before Haig transferred to Wanganui because of work commitments.
He became coach of Wanganui, taking them from the old third division to the second, and then moved to Counties. His career as a coach far exceeds what he achieved as a player with Southland and Bay of Plenty.
Like Woodward, the human side of the job is the hardest to get a handle on and the area where, he feels, those with business and wider life experience arguably hold an advantage over high-achieving players.
"You have to recognise how your players receive information," Haig says. "People learn differently and the biggest part of my job is working out how to get the best out of a group of people. In the last few years, I have really worked on my coaching style and the way I communicate."
Haig, Henderson and Rennie have shown enough to be considered worthy of holding Super 15 positions.
If appointment committees are coming to grips with the fact good players don't always make good coaches, then at least one of those three will be promoted in the next few years.By Gregor Paul Email Gregor