The current contest for the All Black coaching job feels a little weird, because we haven't had real competition for the role for 12 years.
There are lessons from what's happened during the selection process in the past, but they don't give us a great deal of insight into how today's rugby bosses might jump.
Lesson 1: Don't upset the people who have the power to sack you.
The last time the All Blacks finished third at a Rugby World Cup, in 2003, the rush to dump then coach John Mitchell made Usain Bolt look snail-like.
The morning after All Blacks had beaten France, 40-13, in the bronze playoff, NZRU officials held a press conference in a Sydney hotel. Chief executive Chris Moller made it clear Mitchell would struggle to keep his job.
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"I think there are a number of areas of improvement that are required and certainly we need to lift the bar in a number of areas. I think all of you would raise some concerns around the areas of the media, probably the interface with the rugby union and possibly some sponsor activity as well."
NZRU chairperson Jock Hobbs said the job might have been advertised even if the All Blacks had won the Cup.
Mitchell was already on a plane to Wellington while the Sydney conference was on. Later, on TVNZ's Sunday programme, he said the comments of Hobbs and Moller were "hard to swallow. It was like my employer did not support me."
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Why was the mood to cut Mitchell adrift so strong? Because he had not so much bitten the hand that fed him as acted as if he'd forgotten it was even there.
In Sydney that morning after the bronze playoff, media were getting off-the-record briefings from NZRU officials about the disconnect between Mitchell and the board. One board member said the stonewall Mitchell often presented to journalists sometimes went up when he sat down for briefings with the union. "He (Mitchell) was asked a harmless sort of question at one meeting, and he said he was sorry, but he wasn't at liberty to share any details with us. We're basically his bloody bosses, and he wouldn't tell us."
When the contest for the All Blacks coaching job came down to a choice between Mitchell and former Blues, Wales, and Lions coach Graham Henry, Mitchell opened up to the media, and, by extension, the public. A film crew was allowed into his house in Hamilton. He said he had no problem with the media, and expressed shock at any suggestion he was a control freak. "That's a sad perception. I'm not like that in any manner." He made the valid point his record as All Black coach, with 83 per cent of games won, was at that time the best of the professional era, where the average winning ratio had been 72 per cent.
The campaign worked with the public, but public sentiment didn't sway the NZRU. Returning from a Friday morning run on December 19, Mitchell found a message on his cell phone to call Hobbs. "I had a feeling it would not go my way." It didn't. Graham Henry was the new All Blacks coach.
Any parallels with the 2019 situation? None that I can see. Ian Foster is an open, amiable man, as are the other leading candidates, Scott Robertson, and Jamie Joseph. I'm hard pressed to think of three other coaches who would be more well liked by anyone who has ever had dealings with them, and that would certainly include the people in charge at New Zealand Rugby.
Lesson 2: Don't ever let your guard down at the job interview.
In 2001, when Wayne Smith was in his second year as All Blacks coach, a 79th minute try by Toutai Kefu saw the Wallabies win 29-26 in Sydney, which made it two losses out of two to the Aussies for the season.
But there were also two good wins over the Springboks, and the general expectation was that Smith would keep his job.
But 17 days after the gut wrenching loss in Sydney, Smith was in Wellington for a fateful meeting with a seven-man NZRU review panel.
Most coaches, no matter how bad the season has been, know how the review game is played. They offer lofty plans for the year to come, find convoluted excuses for losses, and often offer to sacrifice players and/or fellow coaching staff. They never express doubt.
Wayne Smith was different. As a player he was renowned for his honesty: "He wasn't a big bloke," his wonderfully laconic Canterbury captain of the 1980s Don Hayes once said, "and he wasn't much of a tackler. But he never stopped trying to tackle. I kind of admired him for that." Smith the coach didn't try to hide in a boardroom either.
Facing a panel of four former All Blacks captains - Brian Lochore, Tane Norton, John Graham, and Andy Dalton - plus former All Black Richie Guy, former All Black selector Lane Penn, and NZRU chief executive David Rutherford, he told them he needed more time, because at that moment he was not sure if he wanted to continue as All Blacks coach. "I thought they wanted me to be honest."
Just two days later, when a report from the panel was presented to the NZRU board, Smith's remark was translated as "he doesn't want the job."
A week later in the Canterbury union's boardroom in Christchurch a media conference was called by Smith. He explained that while he had said he "wasn't sure" he wanted the job on that fateful Tuesday in Wellington, he had not said that he definitely didn't want it. He was then still wrestling in his mind with the issue.
Careful to not offend the men who held his coaching future in their hands, he said he could, however, fully understand how the review panel might have thought he didn't want it. But now he had no doubts. He was keen to continue.
Too late. On October 1 in Wellington Smith, his assistant, Tony Gilbert, Chiefs' coach John Mitchell, and Crusaders' coach Robbie Deans were all interviewed for the All Blacks coaching job. Two days later Smith was sacked, and Mitchell was appointed.
Any parallels with the 2019 situation? None that I can see. Foster, Robertson, and Joseph are all veterans of the boardroom process. At the time Smith was facing a panel in 2001, having a panel reporting to the board was new territory. The current crop are all articulate men, who know from experience how this show works. It's highly unlikely any of them would muse out loud if they had any doubts.
Lesson 3: No matter how good a player he is, or how good hearted a bloke, a superstar endorsement is no guarantee of success.
In 1991, after the All Blacks had finished third at the World Cup, John Kirwan was asked who he thought should be appointed coach for the next tournament. As open and honest then as he would later be in his campaigning for mental health, he said he thought John Hart would be a good choice.
Another genuinely sincere All Black is Beauden Barrett who, when the '19 team arrived back at Auckland airport, said: "hopefully we can have some continuity" as he praised the intelligence of Ian Foster as a coach.
Any parallels between '91 and '19? John Hart didn't get the coaching job, which went to Laurie Mains. Barrett's praise of Foster, like Kirwan's backing of Hart, will have done no harm. But it's unlikely to have any major effect on the final outcome.
Our All Blacks coaching contest now remains, as Winston Churchill said in 1939 of Russia, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Take with a large grain of salt anyone who claims to already be certain about the final choice.