John Plumtree's promotion to Hurricanes head coach next season was not the fait accompli it seems.
Much has been made of the handshake agreement Chris Boyd and John Plumtree struck when they first joined the Hurricanes three years ago.
Boyd lured Plumtree back from Ireland, where he had been forwards coach for less than a year. In unusual circumstances, the pair agreed then Plumtree would take over the head coach duties when Boyd decided to move on. As contracts were penned, discussions took place at board level that this scenario was likely to eventuate.
Still, it was never guaranteed. Had results not gone well, the Hurricanes had no formal obligation to follow through and appoint Plumtree.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) pays the salaries of the head coach and one assistant, so the Hurricanes were not totally in control of their own destiny.
Still, all parties - from coaches to administrators - saw Plumtree following Boyd.
Such unprecedented succession planning gave the franchise long-term security to retain talent and, after 20 years of falling short, led to them finally fulfilling their potential.
With all coaches off contract at the end of this season, 2018 was the natural juncture for the Plumtree transition.
But it wasn't that simple. Not for Boyd, who is understood to have wanted to stay on beyond this season.
Results-wise, the Hurricanes have been Super Rugby's most successful team for the past three years. They blew the 2015 final, losing to the Highlanders, rebounded to claim their maiden title in 2016 and butchered the semifinal in Johannesburg last year.
Given Boyd's exceptional record at the helm of a previously under-performing side, the passionate Wellingtonian had every right to want to stay.
The Weekend Herald understands if Boyd stayed beyond this season, aspirational assistant coach Jason Holland may have been lost - potentially to the Crusaders. Plumtree taking the reins was never in question. It was timing that became the sticking point. Would it be in 2019, 2020 or 2021? And what did those time frames mean for Holland's future?
Open dialogue was held between all parties and the various scenarios played out. Even in the week Boyd announced he was leaving, not knowing which way it would go.
Ultimately, Boyd wanted what was best for franchise long term, and for Plumtree and Holland to develop further, so he went down the route of signing a lucrative three-year deal as director of rugby with Northampton, probably the last major role of his coaching career.
Announcing his departure, Boyd lamented the glass ceiling for New Zealand's elite Super Rugby coaches, particular those who don't crack the All Blacks and are forced to take their talents abroad.
Had there been some form of pathway to mentoring Kiwi coaches, he may have stayed. His first preference was not to leave.
Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee rejected requests to discuss details of how negotiations played out but did confirm the final decision to go with Plumtree and Holland for the next three seasons, through to 2021, was fraught.
"It was a difficult process because you are dealing with people's liveli-hoods and families. If I look at it now, I'm really happy that we've got two outstanding coaches in John and Jason. Chris Boyd is an incredibly good coach and he'll do extremely well in the UK," Lee said.
"We've now got coaches who have been here for several years and lots of players who have worked under them and respect those guys and understand their systems. Bringing someone in who doesn't have those relationships would be a little bit more challenging. It can be done but you'd always recruit internally if you could."
Towards the back end of his troubled tenure at the Blues, Sir John Kirwan attempted a similar handshake agreement with Tabai Matson, at the time assistant coach of the Crusaders.
Kirwan tried to lure Matson to the Blues with the promise of succeeding him as head coach. In the end Matson, now assistant to Colin Cooper at the Chiefs, turned down the offer.
In this case, the Hurricanes' handshake arrangement transpired exactly as planned but it wasn't without complications and major concessions.