Ian Foster is one win away from becoming the fourth coach to deliver New Zealand a World Cup title but it would be a bittersweet triumph for a man long since judged unfit to carry on in the role.
Whether the All Blacks win or lose against South Africa in the final, Foster will be out the door to make way for Scott Robertson, the succession foisted upon him more than five months before the tournament kicked off.
Foster can expect tributes and thanks from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) bosses when making his exit, some 12 years after joining the All Blacks setup as an assistant to Graham Henry.
The 58-year-old spoke in February of wanting “another crack” at the job if he brought the World Cup home, and asked NZR to park the coaching decision until after the tournament.
Unlike his former bosses Henry and Steve Hansen, each of whom coached New Zealand to two World Cups, winning one apiece, Foster was never given the option.
His army of critics applauded that decision. They have since retreated into the shadows during the All Blacks’ run in France.
Still, Foster has far from won his country over.
Of more than 20,000 voters in an online poll carried by New Zealand news website Stuff on Wednesday, nearly two-thirds agreed NZR were right to shunt him in favour of Robertson.
Coaching is rarely a popularity contest but Foster’s lack of it has been a hallmark of his four years in charge, and somewhat bemusing to neutral fans given the trove of silverware delivered on his watch.
There was little fanfare in rugby-mad New Zealand when he was given the top job after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, having beaten out the charismatic Robertson.
For better or worse, Foster was seen as a vote for continuity and an endorsement of a system set up by Graham and Hansen, similarly dour men in suits.
With the All Blacks dumped from the semi-finals in Japan, the system was already under strain when Foster took over.
Not that fans, pundits and media in New Zealand were willing to give him much of a break.
Sky-high expectations are inevitable in a country accustomed to near-constant success in rugby.
Following the 44-6 demolition of Argentina in the semi-finals, Foster was asked to respond to his critics who he once labelled pretty “vicious”.
“There’s not a personal agenda here. It’s about the All Blacks and it’s always about the team,” he told reporters.
“Things have happened to individuals and the team — and clearly they’ve happened to me — but it doesn’t change (anything).
“The team comes first.”