There is a subtle distinction between the best and the best available when it comes to appointing the next All Blacks coach and New Zealand Rugby need to be careful they secure the former.

The bad news is that if they stick with their current plan, they may well end up with the latter.

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The national body is committed to holding a contestable process after the World Cup. Steve Hansen said last year that he was almost certain that he wouldn't want to stay on beyond his current contract which expires after the 2019 World Cup.


"I think, without committing to it 100 per cent, I can't see myself extending beyond the World Cup and there are probably a couple of others [All Blacks management team] who won't either," he said.

"Then it comes down to do they [NZR] want continuity from a head coaching point of view or do they want someone new. That will be up to the appointment panel. There are some good candidates."

His last point is universally accepted as true. These are unprecedented times for New Zealand: never have they known such coaching riches.

Half the best international teams in the world are currently coached by Kiwis and there are plenty more scattered around the biggest clubs in the game.

NZR has even dropped the old rules about having to have coached recently in New Zealand to be eligible and with that has seemingly provided itself with a cast-iron guarantee that when the time comes to find the next All Blacks coach, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

All Blacks TJ Perenara and Ian Foster after their win against Australia in the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
All Blacks TJ Perenara and Ian Foster after their win against Australia in the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Except it might not play out this way, because like a good stand-up comedy act, timing is everything when it comes to appointing international coaches. Logistics might be frightfully dull, but in this case they are supremely important and NZR may be making a giant mistake by putting everything off until after the World Cup and waiting until December 2019.

It would seem they are committed to waiting that long because that is the way, with one exception, they have always done things.

But attitudes and expectations have changed within elite coaching circles and its a needless risk for NZR to hold off on a process they could conduct in the middle of next year and be almost certain by doing so, that they will be giving themselves the best chance of appointing the best candidate.


The first problem with waiting is that it almost certainly eliminates from the running New Zealand coaches in jobs with European clubs.

The Northern Hemisphere club season kicks off in August-September 2019. As big and alluring as the All Blacks job is, practicalities will kick in and if a European club comes calling in early 2019, as many inevitably will, what are ambitious New Zealand coaches to do?

Turn down their advances and remain jobless in the hope they land the All Blacks job later that year? It's possible that some candidates will be prepared to take that level of risk, but one of the great failings of the real world is its insistence on such things as mortgage payments being met.

The modern coach is guided more by the head than the heart these days and most have a career plan that means they won't necessarily drop everything for the All Blacks.

The second complicating factor with waiting is that the All Blacks won't be the only international team looking to make an appointment after the 2019 World Cup.

England, Wales, most likely Ireland and possibly other major and minor nations will be doing the same and while renaissance period English poet John Donne is an unlikely guide on this, his observation that no man is an island stands as the perfect metaphor.

New Zealand can't be oblivious to the recruitment plans of other nations because they are all chasing the same people and those who are in demand will adopt a strategic approach.

The whole business becomes a kind of Dutch auction where prospective candidates have to work out which job they want and which job they could realistically win.

After the 2007 World Cup, on hearing he had missed out to Graham Henry for the All Blacks job, Robbie Deans flew to Australia and was unveilled 24 hours later as the new Wallabies coach.

Head Coach of Wales Warren Gatland. Photo /
Head Coach of Wales Warren Gatland. Photo /

It was either brazen or desperate that Australia so readily took the man the All Blacks rejected but these days it seems unlikely that a national body would be so willing to appoint someone who so obviously didn't view the role as their first choice.

As hard as NZR will try to withhold the identity of unsuccessful candidates, coaches know that's mission impossible and they will be outed.

England and Wales, presumably conscious of the looming intensity of competition after the World Cup, have already announced their coaching intentions.

The former have extended Eddie Jones' contract to 2021, but will appoint his successor in early 2020 with a view to the new man having a two-year apprenticeship inside the camp before he assumes control from the incumbent head coach.

They have given themselves ample flexibility with that plan – both in terms of when they conduct the process and when the new person joins.

Warren Gatland has confirmed he will stand down after the World Cup and Wales have said they will appoint his replacement midway through this year and already have a short-list drawn up which is reportedly an all-New Zealand affair with Dave Rennie, Chris Boyd and Wayne Pivac in contention.

Ireland are yet to declare their plan, but may follow New Zealand's lead and invite applications after the 2019 tournament.

They have Schmidt under contract until the end of 2019 and given the success he's had since he started in 2013, Ireland are eager to keep him.

They might, before the World Cup, persuade him to extend his contract, but are realistic enough to know that Schmidt, who left these shores in 2007, is a proud New Zealander who will find the allure of the All Blacks and being based in New Zealand hard to resist.

But they presumably feel that if they lose Schmidt, their best candidates to replace him are currently coaching in Ireland and therefore the national body should be able to work a smooth transition plan where they can extract their new coach in time to be at the helm for the first tests of 2020.

New Zealand doesn't have that luxury as three of the current Super Rugby coaches – Tana Umaga, Scott Robertson and Aaron Mauger would all say they need more experience at that level before they consider an international job – Boyd is leaving and Colin Cooper, while widely respected and experienced, with the best will in the world, probably isn't going to be able to stake a claim to being the best man to replace Hansen.

So, if NZR insist on sticking with their timeline, despite there seemingly being an endless list of prospects, it could come down to a choice of three: Schmidt, current assistant Ian Foster and Gatland.

And really that means it will be a choice of two because while the latter has an impressive CV, is the most experienced international coach in the world game, it it is hard to imagine he will be deemed the right choice.

Last year he was in New Zealand as the Lions coach, accusing the All Blacks of setting out to deliberately injure halfback Conor Murray. It was an outlandish claim and not one for which he will be readily and easily forgiven by NZR top brass.

Given the abundance of good New Zealand coaches, it will be unforgivable if the whole business is only ever a two-horse race.

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