Less than a month after standing down as Wales head coach, Warren Gatland is set to return to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff this weekend.
This time, however, he will be leading out the Barbarians as life after 12 years with Wales officially begins.
The exhibition match will also be the first of Wayne Pivac’s reign as Wales boss following his five-year spell with Scarlets.
But Pivac and Gatland have more in common than their Welsh connection. The pair are both from New Zealand and Pivac’s appointment continues the dominance of not just southern hemisphere coaches around the globe, but Kiwis in particular.
The 57-year-old was announced as Gatland’s successor 15 months ago and becomes the fourth of the last six Wales head coaches to have come from the South Pacific nation, following Graham Henry in 1998, recently departed New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, and then Gatland.
New Zealand still the benchmark
Despite falling short at this year’s Rugby World Cup in the semi-finals against England, the All Blacks remain the standard that other teams aspire to.
Hiring a coach from New Zealand is one way of meeting that challenge, the Welsh Rugby Union clearly feels – and they are not alone.
Ireland, too, have had three New Zealanders as head coach in the past 25 years, including Joe Schmidt, who was in charge for six years up until his departure at the end of the World Cup, Murray Kidd in 1995 and subsequently Gatland in 1998.
Scotland also had a New Zealander in charge between 2014 and 2017 in Vern Cotter as well as two Australians prior to that. England, however, have only ever had one foreigner as head coach: the incumbent Eddie Jones.
Since then England too have added a New Zealander and former All Blacks head coach to their ranks in John Mitchell, who was appointed assistant coach last year.
The preference for New Zealanders specifically has even spread to Australia.
David Rennie is only the second foreigner to coach the Wallbies, who parted ways with Michael Cheika following a disappointing couple of years that culminated in a World Cup quarter-final defeat to England.
Despite the intense rivalry between the two nations, there is a reluctant acceptance from Australia’s rugby union that this is the best way forward, even if it has met with criticism from fans and media alike.
Australia, like a number of countries in the northern hemisphere, appear to be lacking the depth of quality coaches that New Zealand possess.
Arguably their best option is Jones, but the 59-year-old has been repeatedly vilified as a “traitor” for working with South Africa and now England following his sacking as Australia head coach in 2005.
It is a great credit to New Zealand that their coaches are the envy of the world but, following Hansen’s decision to step down after the World Cup, they are now the one major rugby country without a head coach.
Gatland would have been a favourable option for the role but is committed to coaching Super Rugby’s Chiefs as well as the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2021.
Meanwhile the likes of Pivac, Rennie and Japan’s Jamie Joseph are all tied down elsewhere.
The All Blacks look increasingly likely to promote Hansen’s assistant Ian Foster. But while New Zealand decide who their next coach should be, two of their best exports will be facing each other in Cardiff this weekend.