All Blacks coach contenders: Who are the leading candidates?

The decision has been made.

Steve Hansen's eight-year tenure as All Blacks coach will come to an end after next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, where New Zealand will be chasing an unprecedented third straight triumph.

The speculation around Hansen's future will now come to an end, only to be replaced as to whom from an impressive list of candidates will serve as his replacement.

While Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has already declared he will not apply - though there is speculation he could join the fold down the road - the shortlist still includes some of the world's finest coaching minds.

Vern Cotter

Overlooked for the job in 2012, Cotter has forged a hugely impressive career in European rugby. He has a reputation as very serious, almost gruff, personality, but his results speak for themselves. Cotter took Clermont to three straight Top 14 finals before eventually lifting the trophy as the kings of French rugby in 2010; he also presided over a 76-game home winning streak. After departing Clermont, Cotter took charge of Scotland and immediately made an impact; his finest accomplishment was taking the Scots to within three minutes of a World Cup semifinal in 2015, before Craig Joubert awarded the Wallabies a controversial penalty. Cotter has also been linked with the England job as a potential successor to Eddie Jones. He is currently coach of Montpellier.

Ian Foster

The popular choice among pundits and one with an endorsement from Hansen himself, Foster would represent the easiest transition for the All Blacks given his position as assistant coach for the past eight years. Foster has long been Hansen's trusted confidante, and sits at the top table after Test matches alongside his boss and skipper Kieran Read. Foster's role as an assistant has chiefly been with the backline, though he has taken a greater role in more recent times. A former coach of the Chiefs [NZ] and Junior All Blacks, the only thing counting against Foster may be his lack of an international coaching stint.

Warren Gatland

The long-time Wales coach, Gatland probably would have been considered a long shot before he piloted the British & Irish Lions to a drawn series against the All Blacks last year. There was unbelievable pressure on the Kiwi during that period, particularly from the local media, but he handled it marvellously and even wore a red nose after the second Test win in Wellington in reference to an article that had portrayed him as a clown. Before he took charge of Wales, Gatland had a three-year stint with Ireland where his greatest success was losing out to England as Six Nations champions by virtue of points-differential. But he has not been short of success with Wales, securing two Grand Slams [2010 & 2012] while also reaching the 2011 RWC semifinals. His other great achievement was the 2-1 series victory over Australia with the Lions in 2013. While it has improved in recent years, Gatland's record against southern hemisphere nations was particularly woeful.

Jamie Joseph

The former Japan and New Zealand international, Joseph is currently coach of the Brave Blossoms as they prepare to host next year's World Cup. But before he headed off to Asia, Joseph had a long association with New Zealand rugby as coach of Wellington, the New Zealand Maori and in Super Rugby with the Highlanders. And it was in Dunedin where his greatest achievement to date has come as he led the unfancied Highlanders to the 2015 Super Rugby title, defeating the Hurricanes, on the road in Wellington, in the final. He also has Japan heading in the right direction ahead of next year's showpiece, evidenced by a strong showing against England at Twickenham in November. They also put 31 points on an All Blacks' B-team in Tokyo; the only problem being they conceded 69, too.

Dave Rennie

A two-time Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs, Rennie headed to Scotland to broaden his coaching resume and tick the box New Zealand Rugby officials like to see in their Test coaching candidates. In his time with the Chiefs, though, Rennie was a hugely popular figure and one who finally delivered on the talent the region had long had at its disposal. He also brought in Sonny Bill Williams, getting the absolute best out of the code-hopper, in a team that was built around the cornerstones of Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden. Rennie told ESPN in 2016 he was "still keen to coach the All Blacks" but flagged his overseas interest at that point, too. He is reportedly close to agreeing to a new one-year deal with Glasgow, leaving him free to throw his hat in the ring for the All Blacks job from 2020. Rennie also won three straight world titles with the New Zealand Under 20s.

Scott Robertson

The complete opposite of all the other coaches - personality wise -- on this list, Robertson is the only New Zealand-based coach with legitimate claims to the All Blacks job. "Razor" has progressed through the New Zealand system as New Zealand Under 20s, Canterbury and now Crusaders coach, tasting success with each team. But it's his work with the Crusaders that stands out, particularly his effort in ending the franchise's long wait for an eighth Super Rugby crown in 2017, which came on the road in Johannesburg in the decider. The red-and-black juggernaut made it back-to-back crowns in 2018, this time lifting the trophy at home in Christchurch. Robertson, a mere few weeks ago, told reporters he was waiting to see "where the cards fall" in terms of Hansen's future before declaring his interest in the role. They finally hit the deck on Friday morning, leaving Robertson and his fellow contenders to plot their respective approaches.