Joe Schmidt's decision leaves Scott Robertson in mix for All Blacks role

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson walks onto the field before the start of the 2018 Super Rugby final MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images

The first piece in the All Blacks coaching jumble has moved, making Steve Hansen's looming decision New Zealand rugby's hot topic at the start of southern hemisphere's offseason.

Hansen will make a call on his future in the coming weeks after the dust settles on the All Blacks' northern tour, a five-game trip that saw them return home with a 4-1 record and confirmation that Ireland and England are very much Rugby World Cup contenders.

But it was Ireland's 16-9 victory that really put the rugby world on notice, not just for the fashion in which it came, but for the fact their coach, Kiwi Joe Schmidt, had outfoxed Hansen for the second time in three years.

At fulltime in Dublin a fortnight ago, Schmidt appeared to be firming as the All Blacks next coach. But with news overnight that Schmidt will prioritise "family commitments" after he finishes up with Ireland at the conclusion of next year's global showpiece, the situation is suddenly murky once more.

"I have decided to finish coaching and will prioritise family commitments after the RWC in 2019," Schmidt, whose son had a brain tumour at age four and suffers from epilepsy, said.

"There are some inspiring challenges over the next 11 months, so there's plenty of motivation for me to continue working hard, alongside the other management staff, so that the team can be as competitive as possible," Schmidt said as Ireland announced a succession plan that will see defence coach Andy Farrell take over.

And that is what Hansen will have to weigh up over the coming weeks. After eight years and two World Cup cycles at the helm, has he got the energy to go around again? And having already enjoyed the thrill that is a British & Irish Lions series - rugby's other great asset - what fresh challenge is there left to pursue?

The task of successfully transitioning the All Blacks through another period of player changeover could be tempting, given the world champions will wave goodbye to the likes of Kieran Read, Ben Smith and Sonny Bill Williams while Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock could also follow.

But it may prove that with another exodus, Hansen feels that situation would best be served by a fresh voice on the training paddock, too.

Enter Scott Robertson.

The Crusaders coach is off contract in Christchurch at the end of 2019 and after pulling the strings for back-to-back Super Rugby titles, he may be ready for a new challenge himself. The position is clearly on his radar, too, as he stressed the value of timing after news of Schmidt's decision broke.

"The All Blacks job doesn't come up too often. When it does, you have to have a real good look at it," Robertson said on Tuesday.

"The biggest thing for me, that's served me well, is the patience side of it, and the ability to get your timing right. I've got a great job at the moment and I've got a big decision in the next three or four months - what's going to happen in 2020, and I'll just see where the cards fall with other coaches and just see what opportunities there are."

While it is not impossible that Schmidt could change his mind, or there is some sort of misdirection going on behind the scenes, Robertson suddenly looks like the perfect candidate. Others, such as former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, now at Glasgow, and the man who helped bring Scottish rugby out of the doldrums, Vern Cotter, may also be tempted by the position. And then there is Wales coach Warren Gatland, who was only last year in New Zealand at the helm of the British & Irish Lions.

Hansen's current assistant, Ian Foster, is the other standout contender following Schmidt's decision. Foster has been Hansen's trusted deputy throughout the past seven years, and has signalled his interest in succeeding his close friend.

But after leading New Zealand to the Junior World Championship in 2016 and then bringing an end to the Crusaders' 10-year wait for an elusive eighth title, and quickly making it nine, Robertson's star could not be shining any brighter.

It all rests on Hansen though, and a decision that will be made "before Christmas". If he decides to stay on, then Schmidt might suddenly become an option again from 2022. But should the All Blacks coach make the decision to walk away this time next year, then Robertson's timing looks spot on.

"I'm fortunate enough to be in a place I've played for a long time and my family is settled here. It's actually quite a nice time to be making a decision," Robertson said.

"I think of my playing career and coaching career to date, you look at your circumstances. They're favourable for me at the moment and patience has served me well to date. Now, for me, it's a big decision in the next year."