Joe Schmidt has deferred a decision regarding his future as the Ireland head coach for a further two weeks amid increased, if cautious, optimism that the Kiwi will extend his tenure beyond his current contract, which expires at the end of this season.
Schmidt had intimated to the IRFU that he would inform them as to whether he would accept a new contract from the Union, which would most likely run until the 2019 World Cup in Japan or even beyond, by the end of August.
Although that timeframe would technically expire on Thursday, it is understood that Schmidt has a few more family-related matters to consider over the next fortnight before deciding whether to stay or go.
As well as an open-ended offer from the IRFU to extend his stay beyond this season, his fourth at the helm with Ireland, there is pretty much an open door back to New Zealand as well.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew is understood to back up his admiration for Schmidt by contacting him pretty much any time the two happen to be in the same country – be it on Tew's trips to this part of the world or Schmidt's sorties back to New Zealand – and the latest Super Rugby franchise to be linked with him were the Otago-based Highlanders.
However, during the tour to South Africa, Schmidt denied there was a done deal with the Highlanders. "No, that was on the back of one conversation that Roger Clark [Highlanders chief executive] had with me and I have made absolutely no commitment to the Highlanders.
“I’ve made no commitment to anyone other than my current employers.” What’s more, Schmidt maintained that his “very light conversation with Rog [Clarke]” was a relatively normal occurrence.
Were he to move on, Schmidt is also acutely conscious of the need to ensure a smooth transition to a new head coach, and thus provide the IRFU with ample time to plan for a future without him.
“The one thing I want to do no matter what happens in the future is to leave Irish rugby in as good a shape as possible,” he also said during the tour to South Africa. “If that’s this time next year or if it’s in three years’ time, I’m not sure.”
It could still be the case that family matters will persuade him to return to New Zealand, but on balance such considerations make it more likely he will stay. Although he and his family have now been a decade in Europe, his wife Kellie is happy here, and while their eldest is based in Auckland, their three children based in Ireland are also happily ensconced in the education system and life in Dublin. They also recently bought a new house in Dublin.
As regards a rugby decision, and also after a decade abroad, there is naturally a temptation for him to return home, and work within New Zealand’s Super Rugby framework as, potentially, a prelude to working within the All Blacks’ set-up.
He may also be concerned that after seven seasons coaching some of Ireland's Leinster contingent they may be weary of his ways and his methods. Yet there is no sign of that, and aside from being hugely popular with the public, the players want him to stay on, not least as they believe in his methods.
In what sounded like another hint of his impending departure, Schmidt also commented in South Africa that “no matter what happens, the coaching group as it is, are in great shape. I have less and less to do with it.”
Yet the notion of Schmidt having less to do with it is risible, and he must surely know that his voracious attention to detail remains the glue that knits the coaching and management ticket together. Besides, the All Blacks will have been listening to Steve Hansen for a dozen years come the next World Cup and there are countless other examples of lengthy reigns being successful, be it Graham Henry, Warren Gatland or Clive Woodward.
Financial considerations would hardly lure him home either, even if his pay wouldn't be in the same league as Eddie Jones with England.
His decision not to be considered for the Lions tour could be interpreted as a signal that he would soon be cutting his ties with Ireland or, alternatively, he is more of a mind to take a developmental Irish squad to Japan next summer, as a continuation of the build-up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.