Steve Hansen's assistant Ian Foster has expressed concerns about his readiness to become the next All Blacks coach and is no certainty for the top job.
And New Zealand Rugby general manager Neil Sorensen has confirmed that overseas-based Kiwis such as Ireland's success story Joe Schmidt can step straight into the All Blacks job after the next World Cup.
Sorensen's interview with Newstalk ZB's Mark Watson has raised the first official doubts about Foster taking over from Hansen.
Sorensen, the effective number two to NZR's ironman leader Steve Tew, indicated that the succession plan since the Graham Henry era is not necessarily a blueprint set in stone. He also raised the possibility that Hansen, who had initially intended stepping down at the end of last year, might carry on if he won the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
It now appears that Foster's lack of overseas coaching experience could count against him.
While Henry's assistant Hansen had minimal head coaching experience in New Zealand when taking over after the 2011 World Cup triumph, he had coached Wales. Foster was head coach at the Chiefs, but had limited success there and has not been overseas yet.
When asked if the next appointment would be a "transparent process" Sorensen said: "Absolutely, 100 per cent. The process has already been signed off by the board.
"We will ensure that when we go to market in December 2019 that there are as many Kiwis as possible available. That's got to be our job. Our plan of attack is to make sure that those coaches overseas know what our process is and what we are looking for.
"I know there have been limitations in the past of people coming back, making sure they are familiar with our environment first.
"But we've loosened the requirement for the All Black coach to match Super coaches — all Kiwi coaches offshore will be available. We want them to be available to coach the All Blacks."
Of the coaches who do go overseas, Sorensen said "we don't see them gone from our family...most come back and say they are better coaches from being in the overseas environments.
"I can tell you that Fozzie is really clear, and we're clear at our place, that when he signed with us to extend his contract, he said 'I'm worried - maybe I need to go offshore for a while and come back'.
"He made that decision to stick around with a successful All Black side...when the panel sits down they will have to take that into account. Fozzie will be sitting there thinking 'maybe I should have gone offshore and it will count against me'
"He is not sitting there saying 'I'm next after Steve Hansen. He will be putting his hand up like everybody else..
"Anyone with a decent sporting brain knows maybe half a dozen or more guys out there are capable of stepping into that environment and doing a fantastic job. The 16 or 15 people around Steve Hansen are pretty good operators as well.
"We're not complacent...one of the challenges might be we win the World Cup and Steve Hansen says I want to have another crack, I'm only 58. It would be bloody hard (to say no to Hansen) after three victories."
Schmidt, who would be a frontrunner, is contracted with Ireland until the end of the 2019 tournament.
Meanwhile despite his own reservations, Sorensen defended the Crusaders' appointment of Ronan O'Gara as an assistant coach, saying it would help expose New Zealand to the differences in northern hemisphere rugby. He did not think there should be any recriminations if Ireland's O'Gara went on to help topple the All Blacks at a World Cup.
"(but) my gut feel is I would rather it be a Kiwi (at the Crusaders), but they're giving it a crack," he said.
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