All Blacks: The next head coach front runner, contender, outside bets and wild card
The All Blacks will have a new head coach after the 2023 Rugby World Cup following Ian Foster’s decision not to reapply for the position.
On Wednesday, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) confirmed that the process to select the All Blacks head coach from 2024 had commenced. The announcement was swiftly followed by a statement from current coach Foster that he will not be amongst the candidates for the job.
With Foster vacating the role after the 2023 World Cup, Planet Rugby looks at the potential candidates to fill the position.
Front runner: Scott Robertson
There is one clear front runner for the position, Scott Robertson. He has enjoyed unprecedented success with the Crusaders, winning six titles in six years with the Super Rugby side. The former All Black also won three NPC titles with Canterbury and U20 World Championship with New Zealand before taking on the Crusaders job.
He was interviewed for the job in 2020 following Steve Hansen’s departure from the All Blacks. However, the board opted to appoint Hansen’s lieutenant Foster instead.
Robertson is the leading candidate and will likely take the position unless something drastic happens. He has openly expressed his desire to take the step up to Test rugby, and if he does not get the All Blacks job this time around, he will almost certainly leave New Zealand for opportunities abroad.
Strong contender: Jamie Joseph
Robertson is the overwhelming favourite to land the role. But he does have one strong competitor in current Japan head coach Jamie Joseph.
Joseph led the Highlanders to Super Rugby success in 2015 before taking over as Japan’s head coach from Eddie Jones in 2016.
The former forward played Test rugby for New Zealand and Japan during his playing career and could do the same in a coaching capacity.
Joseph coached the Brave Blossoms at their home Rugby World Cup in 2019. Japan won all four of their pool stage matches, including wins over Ireland and Scotland, to become the first Asian team to reach the quarter-finals of a Rugby World Cup.
They were unpowered in the quarter-finals by eventual winners South Africa falling to a 26-3 defeat. Under Joseph, Japan have continually improved and came close to a historic upset over New Zealand last November.
The 53-year-old provides Robertson with stiff competition for the role, with Test level experience counting in his favour.
Outside bets: Leon MacDonald and Clayton McMillian, Joe Schmidt
Locally, two outside bets could take on the role and may apply for the job.
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald brought silverware back to the Auckland-based side in 2021, winning the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.
MacDonald was one of Robertson’s assistant coaches at the Crusaders in 2017, before leaving for the Blues. He was also one of Roberston’s potential assistants when he applied for the All Blacks role in 2020.
It’s unclear whether MacDonald would still be interested in the same role under Robertson if he got the All Blacks job. He has also been linked to a position with Leinster, where he would fill the void left by Stuart Lancaster.
Meanwhile, one of the more underrated coaches in New Zealand could throw his hat into the ring. Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillian has been making waves in New Zealand rugby for some time now.
A Bay of Plenty legend during his playing days, he took over as head coach of the side in 2015. He led the lesser-fancied side to NPC championship success in 2020.
He filled in as interim head coach for the Chiefs in 2021 as Warren Gatland led the British and Irish Lions. The side’s performances that year saw him retain the role a year later, a position he still holds now.
McMillian is also the Maori All Blacks head coach and was the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians coach that faced the Lions in 2017. He has also assisted the New Zealand U20s and, more recently, was the All Blacks XV coach last November.
Finally, former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is another outside bet for the role. Schmidt’s credentials would make him a front runner for the position under normal circumstances. His success with Leinster and Ireland is well documented. There was a notable difference in the All Blacks’ performances when he joined the coaching staff last year.
However, Schmidt’s family commitments mean that he is unlikely to want the top job. His son struggles with epilepsy, and in an interview with Stuff.co.nz in 2021, he was asked if he wanted to coach the All Blacks one day, he replied: “Not really, I’m not really sure. Look. I will be massively frank, I love the All Blacks because as a Kiwi kid growing up that’s what you want to be and that hasn’t changed at all. But I aspire to be a really good dad If I can be, and when I stepped away from coaching, that was my aspiration.”
Who knows, things may have changed for the former Ireland mentor.
Wild card: Brad Thorn
World Cup-winning All Blacks’ lock Brad Thorn is another coach who has enjoyed recent success.
The 48-year-old has turned the Queensland Reds into serious contenders in Super Rugby again since taking over in 2018.
Thorn’s trophy-laden playing career was immediately backed up by a winning start to his coaching career. He won the 2017 National Rugby Championship in his first season in charge of Queensland Country.
He won his first title with the Reds in 2021, defeating the Brumbies in the final of the Super Rugby AU competition. His contract with the Reds is coming to an end this season, and he could put his name forward.
Jones’ appointment as Wallabies head coach means that Thorn needs to look for opportunities elsewhere whilst Dan McKellar is set for his move to Leicester Tigers next season.
READ MORE: Ian Foster confirms he will step down as head coach after World Cup
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