PHIL WALTER / GETTY PICTURE
Wayne Smith, left, and Steve Hansen took pictures during the 2017 All Blacks training.
Wayne Smith can't recall a more competitive race to become the next All Blacks coach.
But that comes with the warning of the former All Blacks guru, whose 20-year relationship – five as a player and 15 over three shooters in coaching capacity – ended with the national side in 2017.
"One of the issues facing New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will not be the destruction of Super Rugby by all coaches going to the All Blacks environment," Smith said Things from Japan, where he works as director of rugby for the Kobelco Steelers.
NZR President Brent Impey on Wednesday confirmed that 26 kiwi coaches have been invited to apply for the role vacated by Steve Hansen after the All Blacks finished third in the recently concluded World Cup in Japan.
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Impey has not given up all 26 competitors assigned to them, but coaches working both in New Zealand and overseas are on the list.
He also clarified that a key component when deciding on the next head coach is the strength of the team each individual plans to install.
NZR will name the successful applicant before Christmas, opening the door to the possibility of some New Zealand's five Super Rugby franchises being stripped of their coaches with a start to the 2020 Super Season just around the corner (January 31).
"I can't think of any other time when I was so competitive. If you look at 2007, it was Robbie [Deans] in relation to us [Sir Graham Henry, Hansen, Smith]"It was competitive, but this is a different level," Smith said Things.
"Here, we have three or four top coaches with great credentials, all with their own ways of handling, putting together impressive teams, and all having a crack at a top job. It's great. It's going to be bigger than Coronation Street.
"It will depend on who they get into their teams, how they will respond to some of the challenges around creating new structures and a little freshness."
Ian Foster, who has been assisting Hanse since 2012, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, Japan head coach Jamie Joseph and Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie are considered frontrunners.
However, so far, only Foster and Robertson have confirmed that they will replace their case with Hansen in the NZR.
"Nobody really said if Dave Rennie was in the process or not. All he said was flattering that it was [shoulder tapped by NZR], but he’s second if he enters a process that raises the competition level even more, and that’s great, ”Smith said.
"I'm a great friend of mine, but he didn't tell me. I don't know what he'll do."
Although he previously said he would be willing to work as an assistant for Foster and Robertson, former Highlanders and Otago coach Tony Brown only committed to work as Joseph's offensive line coach this week.
As he told Sky Sport that he was not comfortable floating between the three coaching teams, Brown planned to meet Joseph again this week.
"I think he did the right thing. He's probably thrown a wrench in the works for some others, but there are some good coaches around," Smith said.
"You just wonder how we can put them all together. Obviously, we can't.
"The key will be to maintain some communication lines for those who miss out and ensure they are in the process next time."
Blacks World Cup Winner Coach (2011) Henry is one of only five on the NZR board to make the final decision.
Impey, upcoming (since January 2020) CEO Mark Robinson, NZR chief Mike Anthony and former Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu are left behind.
"For some of these guys, it's a win-win. It's not a win-win," Smith said.
"If Razor [Robertson] they don’t get all black, it’s still a win. He probably wanted it all over the world, but he actually got a job with the Crusaders and got a chance to win a four, which was never done.
"Jamie Joseph is the same. If he gets the job, it's the profit. If not, he'll look for it again in Japan."