Five coaches Ireland could consider if Joe Schmidt decides to walk
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will make a decision on his future next week with New Zealand emerging as a strong suitor for his services.
New Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew has previously mentioned Schmidt among the list of potential candidates to replace current All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen should he decide to resign from his role after next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
It is understood that Schmidt previously turned down a chance to join the All Black coaching ticket in 2017 and he confirmed at Carton House on Thursday that he would make a decision on his future known to the public at some stage next week.
— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) November 22, 2018
The IRFU said at their strategic launch last month that they had prepared for life after Schmidt should the New Zealander choose to leave his post after his contract expires with the union at the end of next year's Rugby World Cup.
After winning three Six Nations titles in five years, a Grand Slam and recording Ireland's only two wins over the All Blacks, whoever follows Schmidt will be trying to fill ridiculously large boots, but here we look at five potential candidates that could potentially step up and take the job if it was offered to them.
5. Scott Robertson
The Crusaders head coach will probably be looking at the New Zealand job himself given that he's guided the Christchurch based club to back-to-back Super Rugby titles over the last two seasons.
You can say a lot about Robertson, from his dance moves, to his vision to the positive mindset that assistant and former Ireland international Ronan O'Gara so strongly vouches for, but back-to-back Super Rugby titles should say almost everything that there is to say from the IRFU's perspective.
Robertson also spent some time with Ards rugby club in Belfast during his playing career so he has made the move to these shores before, however, he was 19-years-old then and wasn't a leading contender for the All Blacks job.
Safe to say that times have changed since but Ireland would still represent one of the great jobs in international rugby and a potential road to the All Blacks in the future should Schmidt return home.
4. Jamie Joseph
A Super Rugby winner with the Highlanders in 2015 and a semi-finalist the following season, Joseph left New Zealand for the Japan in 2016 to build on the strong foundations that current England head coach Eddie Jones laid during his time there.
The Cherry Blossoms would have never been viewed as a traditional stepping stone in international rugby but Jones elevation to the England job has now made them more of a viable gateway to bigger and better things.
Japan were leading at half-time against England last weekend before ultimately fading in the second-half but Joseph has some serious credentials and deserves to be considered among the contenders.
3. Conor O'Shea
The Italian rugby job is very much a poisoned chalice in international rugby and it appears that O'Shea may follow the same route of many of his predecessors before him.
He already has a better winning percentage than former coach Jacques Brunel, who looks to have France back on track after a tour summer tour of New Zealand, and it must be remembered that he won an Aviva Premiership and a Challenge Cup in his previous role with Harlequins.
2. Andy Farrell
Farrell was name checked as a possible contender by IRFU CEO Philip Browne last month, and although he denied the rumour he could replace Schmidt, he was mentioned by Browne which has to at least put him in the running.
He is the only defence coach in world rugby to twice hold the All Blacks tryless and he has previously served as a defence coach with both England and on two different tours with the British & Irish Lions.
He's been around international coaching setups for sometime now and is very familiar with the game at this level but maybe the IRFU would hold some private reservations that he's never taken on the top role before. However, the fact that they name checked him certainly puts him in the running.
1. Stuart Lancaster
The former England head coach has worked wonders at Leinster alongside Leo Cullen and helped transform their attack from a side that scored 51 tries in the regular season of the PRO12 during Cullen's first season in charge to a team that scored 91 tries the following season after his arrival.
Leinster's players have spoken at great length about the improvements he has made during his time at the club and he's quite lucky to even be there given how closely his job was tied with former England captain Chris Robshaw's decision to kick for the corner against Wales in the World Cup.
England's Pool stage exit at the World Cup ultimately cost Lancaster his job but before that he had bled through a number of outstanding young players and boasted a 61% win percentage, bettered only by Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones in the last 20 years.
If Schmidt does decide that his time with Ireland has finally come to an end, the IRFU could do much worse than pass the keys to Lancaster.