AUCKLAND – New Zealand rugby has no shortage of coaching talent and Steve Hansen's announcement that he will step down as All Blacks mentor after next year's Rugby World Cup will spark intense competition for the coveted role.
We look at four New Zealanders who could potentially become the new All Blacks coach:
If New Zealand Rugby maintains the policy of promoting from within that it adopted when appointing Hansen, then Foster will be favourite for the top job.
Foster has been Hansen's assistant since late 2011 and knows the All Blacks' set-up inside out, a major asset in an organisation that values continuity.
He also has relationships with top players and would expect Hansen to support his bid to become head coach after years of loyal service.
Critics point to an uninspiring eight-year spell in charge of the Waikato Chiefs, when their best result was a losing appearance in the 2009 final.
However, he has also been an integral part of one of the most dominant All Black spells in rugby history.
If New Zealand Rugby believe he can maintain that success and emulate Hansen's smooth transition from assistant to head coach, he will be offered the top job.
Schmidt guided Ireland to their first ever win over the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016, then his team did it again on home soil in Dublin last month.
It captured the attention of the Kiwi's rugby-mad homeland and Schmidt's announcement that he will leave Ireland after the World Cup seemingly makes the timing perfect for him to step into Hansen's shoes.
The 53-year-old has said he intends to take a break from coaching after 2019 but he would surely be tempted if the All Blacks come calling.
Schmidt's achievements with Ireland include three Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam this year, the wins over New Zealand and a series success in Australia.
No less a light than the legendary former All Black skipper Richie McCaw has backed him to coach the New Zealanders.
"I think everybody sits there hoping one day he'll come back and put himself back in the mix in New Zealand," McCaw said recently.
New Zealand Rugby have also recognised his talent and reportedly offered him a job as All Blacks' assistant coach last year but were turned down.
🗣️ Following the announcement that he will step away from the All Blacks coachning role after the 2019 World Cup, Steve Hansen gives an insight to his decision.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) December 14, 2018
FULL STORY ➡️ https://t.co/AEN1lrqIoz pic.twitter.com/OC8mRQWHVw
By rights, Warren Gatland should rank among the leading candidates for Hansen's job -- the reality, however, is that rugby politics may prevent that happening.
Gatland guided the British and Irish Lions to a series draw against the All Blacks in 2017, building on the series win over Australia four years earlier.
He has also won three Six Nations titles with Wales and took them to a World Cup semi-final in 2011.
He too is set to leave his position with Wales after the World Cup and has made it clear he will be moving back home to New Zealand.
However, Gatland is believed to have a frosty relationship with New Zealand Rugby's upper echelons and his appointment would come as a surprise, despite his impressive record.
A break-dancing surfer dude to coach the All Blacks? It could happen, though probably not next year.
Scott Robertson has revived the Canterbury Crusaders with two titles in his first two seasons in charge and before that he won three titles in four years in the domestic competition.
With his unkempt hair, happy-go-lucky persona and trademark break-dancing victory celebration, Robertson does not fit the established coaching mould.
But the talent of the man nicknamed "Razor" is undeniable and his unorthodox methods get results, as Hansen has noted.
"He is unique and he is what he is and he brings an infectious excitement with him," Hansen said this year.
Robertson is regarded as a definite prospect to one day coach the All Blacks but, at 44, is in no hurry to pursue the job, saying he still has plenty to learn.
"You have to be patient. Time is something that benefits you as a coach," he said.
Other Kiwi coaches considered outside chances to replace Hansen include Jamie Joseph, now coaching Japan, Glasgow Warriors mentor Dave Rennie and Vern Cotter at Montpellier.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)