The race to be the new All Blacks coach appears to be down to just two men.
Former Wellington, Highlanders and New Zealand Maori coach Jamie Joseph has extended his tenure in charge of the Japanese national side.
The ex-All Blacks flanker was considered one of the three remaining leading contenders to replace Steve Hansen.
But confirmation of his new four-year contract with Japan has taken him out of the running.
With reports strongly linking former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie to the vacant Wallabies head coach role, incumbent All Blacks assistant Ian Foster and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson appear to be in a head-to-head battle to claim New Zealand rugby’s top job.
The news is also expected to rule out the involvement of Tony Brown, who has said he would stay loyal to Joseph and remain his assistant coach wherever he decided to sign.
The pair steered Japan on a memorable run last month to a maiden World Cup quarter-finals appearance, upsetting Ireland and Scotland.
Their fast-paced brand had attracted enthusiastic support from a host nation where rugby struggles for mainstream cut-through.
Joseph said his goal was to take the Brave Blossoms to a new level over the next four years.
“We achieved the goal of being among the top eight countries in the World Cup, but there are still more issues to be tackled,” he said in a translated statement.
“To that end, I chose the path to challenge with the Japanese national team again. I want to strengthen the team.
“I have a great sense of expectation in Japan of rugby, I am very pleased to be able to lead the team to the next Rugby World Cup.”
The 49-year-old joined other high profile names Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and John Mitchell in removing themselves out of the All Blacks race.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby have congratulated Joseph on his decision to re-sign with Japan.
“We wish Jamie well as he continues his work coaching the Brave Blossoms. We respect his decision and his abilities as a coach,” NZR Chairman Brent Impey said in a statement.
“The All Blacks head coach selection panel will continue their shortlisting process, with interviews and negotiations to be conducted through November and early December.
“We are looking forward to announcing the next head coach of the All Blacks next month.”