Justin Marshall says Warren Gatland is a top candidate to become All Blacks coach if or when he decides to apply for the role.
Gatland wraps up his impressive stint in the Northern Hemisphere after this year's World Cup, ending his 13-year tenure with Wales to return to New Zealand, where it's already been confirmed he'll coach the Chiefs next season.
Current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will also step down after this year's tournament in Japan, and while punters think his successor will most likely be assistant coach Ian Foster or Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, Marshall believes Gatland's name should be in the mix too.
"I certainly don't think that he is, by any means, under the umbrella of 'he'll never coach the All Blacks'," Marshall told Wales Online.
"I know that the people who know the game within the New Zealand Rugby Union would never rule the opportunity out.
"He's too successful and too well respected for us to say 'never'. He's well and truly a candidate if he wants to do it at some stage in the future."
Gatland has helped Wales rise to become a dominant force in international rugby since taking over in 2007, which has been summarised almost perfectly this year with Wales completing a Grand Slam to claim the Six Nations and ending the All Blacks' decade-long run at the top of the world rankings.
Gatland has also coached the British and Irish Lions to two successful tours so far, having won the 2013 series against the Wallabies 2-1 and drawing the 2017 series with the All Blacks.
The 55-year-old even has a sabbatical in his new deal with the Chiefs to lead the Lions on a third tour in 2021 when they head to South Africa.
But despite his deep connections to Northern rugby, Marshall believes the former Waikato hooker has never forgotten his roots.
"I think Warren Gatland always has New Zealand rugby in the back of his mind. He played rugby here, he knows what New Zealand culture is like.
"In 2017, he faced it in a different capacity when suddenly he was the enemy [coaching the Lions] and that's just reality - he can't change that.
"Now he's going to be coaching our youth and our Super Rugby players. If that's bad for the game then people don't know the game.
"We're getting an amazing rugby brain with an incredible amount of experience, a successful coach who's not equalled in many areas.
"I think it's great for New Zealand that he's decided to come back and great for the growth of our game."