It has been hard not to admire and respect the quiet dignity with which All Blacks coach Ian Foster has gone about his business since being appointed after the last World Cup.
He has faced extraordinary, unprecedented circumstances since coming into the role – the sort of intensely difficult challenges that would have broken a less resilient or canny character or certainly have seen them implode on occasion.
But Foster, a man with a depth of intelligence – emotional and worldly as opposed to academic – has found a way to keep himself and the All Blacks on an even keel these past 18 months and cope, as well as anyone could have been expected, with the almost preposterous events since early last year.
It would be over egging the comparison pudding to suggest he's a modern-day Sir Edmund Hillary, but goodness knows there have been similarities in their respective battles to succeed.
The peak which Foster and his All Blacks are trying to summit is the number one world ranking and like Hillary on Everest, there have been moments when coach and players have barely being able to comprehend the hostile environment in which they have found themselves.
The arrival of Covid was the veritable storm which changed everything. It has been an endless blizzard which has made progress slow and difficult for the All Blacks.
How hard last year was for the All Blacks may never be fully appreciated and the idea that the pandemic hit every nation the same way is a fallacy.
Covid created vastly different circumstances for different nations – something for which there was zero appreciation in New Zealand when the season finished.
The All Blacks world was tipped upside down and shaken a few times last season, but expectations remained at normal levels, leaving Foster to face fierce and unjustified criticism for posting three wins, a draw and two defeats.
In normal circumstances such a return would, unquestionably open the coaching team for scrutiny and harsh reviews, but circumstances were not normal.
New Zealand Rugby's board, basking in New Zealand's level one freedom, saw no reason to view the season through a Covid-impacted lens and hence rejected the rugby committee's recommendation to extend Foster's contract earlier this year.
To have the rugby committee say yes to an extension and the board no, left Foster in yet more uncharted territory for a coach of the All Blacks in the professional era, but like Hillary, he continued to put one foot after the other as it were, uncomplaining and unrelenting in his belief that by saying nothing and focusing everything he had on the team, he'd eventually get his just rewards.
What arguably tested Foster's patience the most, was not Covid or his employer's reticence to support him, but their eagerness to reward the man he had beaten to win the All Blacks job, Scott Robertson.
On the Friday before New Zealand played Fiji in Dunedin this year, Robertson was leading the sports news, announcing that he had been given a three-year contract extension with the Crusaders, which came with a break clause should he land the All Blacks job.
His extension was absolutely earned and deserved, but it was galling for Foster to be in the dark about his own future while NZR had provided certainty for Robertson.
Who, if they had found themselves in the same position, would have felt they had the support of their employer at that point?
And this was after Sir Graham Henry, who had been on the panel that had appointed Foster in 2019, had publicly stated a few months after that he felt NZR had stuffed up by not having given the job to Dave Rennie before he'd committed to coaching the Wallabies.
Unbowed and seemingly from the Nietszche school of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, Foster has channeled all his energy into preparing his team and not once has he got caught up in the politics of his situation.
He's absorbed an awful lot of in the last 18 months and never given any hint that he's frustrated or given any clue that he's felt a terrific sense of injustice.
His dignity has been a factor in winning the loyalty of his players, inspiring them even.
But really, what has brought Foster his contract extension and undeniable support from his players, is the trust and confidence he has generated with his coaching ability and rugby vision.
The players like how he wants them to play. They believe he's got the right strategy, style and people around him to reach the summit of the world game and they know the onus is on them now to show the same sort of resilience and control as their coach has since March last year.