What does All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's new deal mean for Ireland boss Joe Schmidt?
Published 25/07/2016 | 15:45
Unsurprisingly, it was announced today that All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has signed a contract extension to lead New Zealand to the next World Cup.
Hansen has been involved with the All Blacks since 2004, initially as an assistant to Graham Henry before taking over the top job in 2012.
His time at the helm as been an unprecedented success, with the All Blacks retaining their World title in England last autumn while also winning the Rugby Championship three times in the last four years.
Hansen indicated after the World Cup win in October that he was more than likely going to walk away when his contract expired after next summer's Lions tour, but it was always going to be hard for the coach to leave such a successful side.
His winning percentage as the New Zealand head coach is a staggering 91%, with 52 wins and two draws from 57 matches.
With the very real prospect of a third straight World Cup on offer, Hansen has decided to extend his stay by two years.
But what of Ireland boss Joe Schmidt?
His contract is scheduled to finish next summer, with the New Zealander reportedly going to make a decision on his future before the new season. While everyone in Irish rugby would like him to stay, Schmidt may return home for personal reasons, while also entering into the New Zealand rugby coaching set-up - initially in Super Rugby.
Both the Highlanders and the Chiefs have expressed an interest in Schmidt, with the former seemingly the best bet as they will be looking for a new coach for the 2018 season.
Hansen's decision to stay paves the way for a possible succession plan, with Schmidt possibly coaching in Super Rugby for two years before ascending to the All Blacks job after the World Cup in Japan.
It is just speculation at this stage, but increasingly it looks like Schmidt's success in the northern hemisphere is finally getting the appreciation it deserves down south, and today's announcement could be yet another indication that he is destined for rugby's biggest job eventually.
Conversely, he has spent five years in Ireland now and has a real affection for the country. It wouldn't be a total shock if he opts to develop the current crop of players up to the next World Cup and then jump back to his home country.
Either way, Irish rugby - and New Zealand officials - await Schmidt's decision with bated breath.