Cape Town - Rugby World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry believes Wales boss Warren Gatland is among the front runners for the All Blacks role when Steve Hansen steps down following this year's global tournament.
During his 12-year tenure with the Welsh national team, the 55-year-old has led them to four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and a World Cup semi-final in 2011.
That spell will end after the competition in Japan, with former Scarlets man Wayne Pivac taking the reins for the next four years.
It is a similar story in New Zealand with Hansen, who succeeded Henry in 2011, moving onto pastures news and the ex-All Blacks head honcho insists that Gatland is the logical choice.
“It is highly probable,” he told BBC Wales.
“He has proved to be one of the best coaches in the world.
“There are guys like Joe Schmidt (Ireland) and Dave Rennie (Glasgow Warriors), who are over there coaching who have done exceptional jobs who could also do a great job with the All Blacks.
“So there is a pretty competitive field right now, but Warren would be one of the front runners if he made himself available.”
As well as his success with Wales, Gatland has enjoyed two stints as boss of the British and Irish Lions, taking charge of the 2013 and 2017 tours.
The former Waikato hooker remains unbeaten, overcoming Australia and drawing with New Zealand, and was recently announced as head coach for the 2021 series.
Their efforts against the All Blacks, who are the defending world champions, were particularly excellent and Henry was impressed by the Lions’ achievements two years ago.
“He has done fabulously well and I was delighted for him when he toured New Zealand that his (2017 Lions) side was so competitive,” he said.
Gatland has taken that success with the Lions into the Wales job over the past couple of seasons, leading them on an unprecedented run of form.
They have won a record 14 games in a row, which culminated in a Grand Slam, and are among the favourites for the World Cup.
Henry added: “I think Wales have a good chance. It’s going to be a lot closer than it was in 2015 when New Zealand had a distinct edge. It will be a highly competitive World Cup.
“Whether they can maintain that, I think they can. Ireland and England should be competitive and South Africa are improving.
“Hopefully the World Cup will galvanise the All Blacks into some improvements because they have not played that well in recent times or as they have done previously around the 2015 World Cup. It will be a very interesting tournament.”