Joe Schmidt has revealed that he will make a decision on his long-term future after the summer tour to South Africa.
The Ireland head coach is contracted until June 30, 2017 after signing a one-year extension last July. He must decide whether he intends on leading his adopted country to the 2019 World Cup or move on to a different challenge at the end of next season.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is set to leave his role after the Lions series that summer and, while Schmidt might not be an automatic choice for that job, it could be the ideal time for him to return home and get on the New Zealand coaching ladder.
Alternatively, he could be part of the Lions set-up for the tour of his homeland in 2017, something that is not currently allowed for in his contract, even if the IRFU are unlikely to stand in his way.
'Schmidt (pictured) has blooded five new caps who all look like contributing towards the 2019 effort given their age profile' Photo: Sportsfile
The union would almost certainly retain the New Zealander if he wanted to stay after enjoying two Six Nations titles under his watch and despite last year's World Cup disappointment.
While this year's Six Nations defence has not gone to plan, Schmidt has blooded five new caps who all look like contributing towards the 2019 effort given their age profile.
The big question is, will the man who led Leinster to four trophies in three seasons be there to lead them through the cycle? As always, family considerations will play a part for the head coach.
"It is something that I've committed to making a decision once we get back from Africa, really," he said.
“It’s really important that there is a clear pathway for players to know that there’s some continuity there, or if that continuity is going to be with someone else that there’s a span of enough time that they can get the game up and running as they see it best being played.
“I am conscious of my responsibility there, there’s some factors outside of rugby that tend to dictate for me (and) we’ll be a little bit further down the track with some of those decisions as well.
“You couldn’t get a better group of young men to work with and (some) not so young men who are still sprightly in how they move about and the mix has changed a bit this year.
“We’re going to go out on the weekend and play with about half as many caps as we had last time we played Scotland.
“Those things change but at the same time you can still get pretty excited about what the future might hold.
“You just want to get a good finish now and I know Vern (Cotter) will feel the same way; they control their own destiny with that third placing, they have a very good chance of finishing third and that would be a huge step forward.”