New Zealand Rugby's global search for the next All Blacks coach could be whittled down to a four-horse race.
Neither Ellerslie, Addington or Trentham bookies would payout a second place dividend on this field.
New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey announced this week that 26 candidates have been invited to log interest in succeeding Steve Hansen.
Consider that due diligence. The more applicants, the better, in terms of forming the final short list which will be interviewed later this month.
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Many on that list will be flattered to receive an invitation but know throwing their name in the hat will be merely going through the motions of signposting interest.
In this case, 26 names are superfluous.
It does, however, prove NZR is right to rule out a foreign coach.
Knee-jerk reactions that claimed Eddie Jones should suddenly be considered after the All Blacks semifinal defeat faded as quickly as English hopes in the final.
The reality is New Zealand coaches dominate the world game – from the UK to Europe, Japan and Australia. That must be recognised, and pathways preserved.
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The four contenders in the starting gate will come as no surprise – Scott Robertson, Jamie Joseph, Ian Foster, Dave Rennie – but Tony Brown this week changed the competitive nature of this dynamic.
Of that quartet, Warren Gatland is the glaring omission. There's a few reasons for that.
One, he has committed to the Chiefs and, more importantly from an All Blacks' perspective, the British and Irish Lions and their 2021 tour to South Africa.
Gatland could walk away from those duties if he were offered the All Blacks post but being away from home for the past 12 years will count against him.
The next All Blacks coach must have an inherent knowledge of every aspect of emerging talent.
Gatland may be better served settling back in New Zealand and biding his time to potentially position himself as the safe pair of hands should the next All Blacks coach not immediately succeed.
As Impey stressed, NZR wants the best possible coaching teams and this is where the scramble is now on.
Brown's decision to remain loyal to Joseph – rebuffing approaches from Foster and Robertson in the process – sparks a domino effect in that it leaves those hopefuls with holes to fill and little time to do so.
With All Blacks forwards coach Mike Cron finishing, Robertson is expected to include Crusaders assistant Jason Ryan as part of his team but he now needs to source another backs coach.
Likewise Foster, who is believed to have Scott McLeod locked in as his defence coach, has to look elsewhere for someone to fill Brown's role.
Rennie is yet to declare his hand as such other than to say he is flattered by the approach from NZR. With the Wallabies chasing his services, this is a smart play but it would surprise if the respected former Chiefs turned Glasgow mentor does not contest the All Blacks role.
The Wallabies can wait in the wings.
While speculation persists that Rennie could reunite with Wayne Smith to form the pairing which delivered the Chiefs their first two titles, the Herald understands this will not happen with the latter enjoying his role in Kobe and extra time with family.
The other complicated part of the equation is NZR will be conscious of any new All Blacks coaching team decimating Super Rugby stocks.
John Plumtree, for instance, would make an experienced forwards/defence mentor but he is approaching his second season as Hurricanes head coach.
The same issue presents if Robertson or Foster attempt to lure Leon MacDonald from the Blues or Aaron Mauger from the Highlanders.
Even with the test season not beginning until July, juggling both roles is a near impossible task.
As the interview process progresses and favourites emerge, there is also the possibility that NZR encourage contenders to merge aspects of their coaching teams in order to gain the best of both worlds.
This is where a Joseph-Rennie-Brown team could yet emerge.
The ultimate aim will be the best group of coaches, regardless of personal allegiances.
As far as the selection panel is concerned, the main contenders should have confidence they will all be judged on merit.
Impey, incoming NZR chief executive Mark Robinson, head of high performance Mike Anthony and former Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu are all objective enough to leave preconceived opinions at the door.
Graham Henry has close ties to the recent All Blacks regime but he, too, has the team's best interests at heart.
As it stands, though, all bets are off whom has the inside rail in this intriguing four-horse race.