Wellington - All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster re-signed with New Zealand Rugby on Tuesday, boosting his chances of being the next head coach of the world champion All Blacks.
Foster and forwards coach Mike Cron both extended their commitment through to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The announcement came just four days after defence coach Wayne Smith said he needed a break and would step away from the Test environment at the end of this year's Rugby Championship.
Current head coach Steve Hansen, who guided the All Blacks to the 2015 world crown, is expected to stand down after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said he would like the next head coach to be involved in the 2019 campaign, which would count against other leading contenders such as the Wales head coach Warren Gatland, who is also in charge of the British and Irish Lions, and the Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
"Fosie has led the team's back play and attack, which was second to none last year, with the All Blacks topping the international try-scoring table with 80 tries, almost double their nearest rival," said Tew.
Smith, on announcing his decision to leave the All Blacks, endorsed Foster as head coach material.
"I've been really, really impressed with Ian Foster. He's a hard worker, he's got a good analytical brain, a good personality, great connections with the players and he's improving immensely. He would stack up with any coach in the world," Smith said.
Hansen described Foster as an "integral member" of the All Blacks coaching and management group over the past five years and someone who "brings a lot of composure, rugby nous and intellect to the team".