Steve Hansen's coaching staff will be announced today, with most of the mystery surrounding the appointment of an "external" selector.
Speculation has ramped up as to who that could be, with names ranging from recent All Blacks to Hansen confidantes as far back as his Wales days. As soon as it was announced Grant Fox had left the Sky commentary team, his name became front and centre in discussions.
He would be an intriguing choice. A man with a vast library of rugby knowledge and an unbridled love for the game, Fox's umbilical connection to Auckland and Blues rugby could leave him open to suggestions of partiality.
With confirmation that Tana Umaga will fill the void left at Counties Manukau by the departing Milton Haig, that is one name that can surely be rubbed out on the grounds of conflict of interest.
Other recent players with respected rugby brains that might be attractive because of the inside knowledge they have of the modern game are Justin Marshall and Reuben Thorne, but the former has forged a nice career for himself in broadcasting and the latter is probably still too close to Canterbury and the Crusaders.
Hansen will likely name Ian Foster as his assistant, with Brian McLean and Mick Byrne as specialists. Those names have been in the public domain for some time, but the fact that only one will be a selector has added some left-field intrigue.
Would Graham Henry stay on as a selector? Would Hansen turn to somebody like Scott Johnson from his Wales days? There's a recent coach of England with a Kiwi wife who's on the hunt for a job ...
John Kirwan is another name that has done the rounds, though he has made no secret that he has designs on high-profile head coaching jobs and being a selector outside the coaching tent would hold little appeal. You could name just about anybody with a profile in world rugby and build a case for him then rebut that case just as easily.
There's no question, however, about where Umaga will be in 2012.
Umaga's stocks are on the rise in coaching circles and yesterday he expressed his excitement about taking on the head coach role at Counties after two seasons as player-assistant coach.
"My family and I really enjoy living here and I have become very attached to the area and to the players," he said in a statement. "There is a great talent pool here and the region is renowned for growing players, which we will continue to do and focus on retaining the players within the region."
Umaga said the environment created at Counties over the past few years meant they were becoming an attractive destination for players from outside the region, which was a nice change from the union being seen as a virtual "feeder" province for more cash-rich teams.By Dylan Cleaver Email Dylan