Wayne Pivac has again brought his rugby CV to the fore in the ITM Cup - and raised again the question of how he might fare as a Super Rugby coach.
After taking Auckland to the national provincial final for the first time in five years, Pivac has probably done enough to at least be considered for a job (assistants included) next time a position is open.
Even though Auckland fell to Canterbury last night, Pivac has three previous NPC titles coaching Auckland (1999, 2002, 2003), the Ranfurly Shield (end of 2003), a World Cup sevens title with Fiji (2005), and the second division gong with Northland (1997, including promotion to division one). His career has included the odd disappointment - a two-year reign with his native North Harbour in 2007-08 yielded just seven wins in 20 games and saw them lose the Ranfurly Shield 52-7 to Waikato. There was also the swift end to his contract as Fiji head coach just eight months before the 2007 World Cup.
He wasn't an All Black - but neither were the previous and current All Blacks coach. He has never coached at Super Rugby level - but neither had Dave Rennie of the champion Chiefs.
Those who have dealt closely with Pivac speak highly of him, with three distinct themes emerging. He's an astute selector; he recruits a mix of world beaters, grafters and team men; players want to play for him.
Former Blues, Auckland and Northland representative Justin Collins was a loose forward in Pivac teams which won titles in two divisions and the Shield.
"Not many coaches can get the balance right of X-factor players, good buggers and guys with high work rates. You can't have too much of either in any really good team. Looking at Auckland this season, I don't think much has changed. It looks like they're playing and training hard and enjoying their time off the field too.
"Wayne had the gift of the gab. He made players want to play for him. They feel he understands and believes in them.
"He hasn't always toed the line with upper management but the players aren't stupid. They have a fair idea what goes on at that level and knew Wayne was a real players' coach."
Former All Black Glenn Taylor led the Taniwha out of division two in 1997. He says Pivac inherited a team on the rise but had a knack for moulding people together.
"He was especially good pre-game, knowing what made players tick. His man-management skills shone and it was clear he held ambitions to be a full-time coach. Northland was a stepping stone but I'd regard that season as a highlight of my career. We demolished teams and some of those records still stand."
Derek Sampson is another who has worked closely with Pivac. He managed the Auckland side from 1999-2003 then moved with Pivac to Fiji when terms could not be agreed to extend their contracts. More recently he helped Pivac manage Auckland's national champion sevens sides. "Wayne has an uncanny ability to bring guys in from the wilderness and see talent others miss. For instance, he was instrumental in helping Keven Mealamu shift from flanker to hooker and backed him with selection for the 1999 NPC. He has always based a lot on attitude rather than skills. Questions like: 'how is he as a bloke?', 'do I think he can do the job?' and 'could I rely on him if we're six points down with five minutes to go in a crucial match?' are to the fore.
"I think that's reflected in some of the younger guys he's brought through this campaign. [2011 New Zealand secondary schools representatives] Joe Edwards, Simon Hickey and Lolagi Visinia have been chosen from their first year of premier grade rugby."
Sampson cited other talents such as Mils Muliaina, Ali Williams, John Afoa and current skipper Daniel Braid whom Pivac brought through the ranks. He says Pivac would drive across Auckland to pick up players who didn't have cars and could barely afford public transport. He believed he'd be repaid in performance.
"Players wanted to play for him because they felt they had his ear," Sampson says. "That doesn't mean he couldn't tell them bad news. It wasn't all cliches and niceties ... but he didn't do much of it over the phone. He preferred to meet face-to-face."