Graham Henry was the first to find his way from Cardiff to Wellington. He had left his homeland in 1998 having been overlooked for the All Blacks job; he returned in 2004 to claim it after their World Cup semi-final loss to Australia.
And one of his first appointments was Steve Hansen, who had stepped down from the Wales job the previous summer.
The pair finally ended new Zealand’s long wait for their first World Cup triumph in 2011, after which Henry moved on and Hansen moved into the big chair.
There is the prospect of a third coaching giant following in their footsteps, and there is no doubt the path will be clear should Warren Gatland add to his already stellar CV by masterminding a series victory over the All Blacks in the coming weeks.
Already his trophy cabinet is impressive – three Premiership titles and European glory with Wasps; a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown with Wales; a first series win in 16 years for the Lions, against Australia in 2013.
Warren Gatland's trophy cabinet is already impressive
But achieving similar success in the country of his birth is the toughest challenge yet for the 53-year-old New Zealander, whose unshakeable belief in his own abilities will be tested to the full.
The former Waikato hooker has the odds stacked against him. Today’s match against the New Zealand Barbarians is the first of 10 and also the easiest of what is set to be the toughest of tours.
The Lions boast perhaps the strongest squad in their history, yet they remain huge underdogs. A Test series win would be an achievement without parallel.
“There’s no doubt playing the back-to-back world champions in their own backyard with limited preparation makes this the toughest tour I’ve been involved in,” Gatland said. “It’s a massive challenge for us and it’s about how we handle it.
“It was not until I left New Zealand that I realised how tough a country it is to tour. It is a huge challenge from a coaching perspective when you look at the schedule. In the past you might have had some games where you win by 60 to 70 points. The midweek fixtures on this tour are incredibly tough.”
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Gatland knows everything rides on the first Test on June 24 at Eden Park, where New Zealand boast a fearsome record. Since their narrow 23-20 defeat to France in 1994, the All Blacks have won 36 and drawn one of their 37 games in Auckland. With the first and third Tests taking place at the venue, the scale of the task facing Gatland and his men could not be greater.
“A few games in Australia in 2013 were too easy. We won’t get that this time and hopefully the quality of the opposition will prepare for us for the first Test,” he said.
“If you are going to win in New Zealand, you have to win the first Test. You have to try to protect as many of that 23 as you can and give them a good week of preparation.
“When I look back on the Brumbies game in 2013, we could have put a stronger side out and won the game. We lost, but do people remember that result? No they don’t.
“They remember us winning the first Test and winning the Test series 2-1. If I feel like I have to protect the Test 23, I will do.”
Gatland has been Wales coach since 2007 and has been involved in three Lions tours. Single-minded and sometimes frustratingly stuck to the gameplan he favours, he can be a prickly customer when his back is to the wall. He nonetheless remains one of the world’s best coaches and a proud Kiwi, despite his exile from the land of the long white cloud.
The Lions take on the New Zealand Barbarians tomorrow
The All Blacks have won the last two World Cups and are by a stretch the best team on the globe, with strength in depth across the board and a seemingly endless supply of young talent coming through.
The great Dan Carter has been replaced by the world’s best player in Beauden Barrett, and the fly-half’s full-back brother Jordie could yet be a surprise Test series star. Injury concerns over key forwards Dane Coles and Kieran Read have nonetheless given Steve Hansen cause for concern.
The home side are odds-on favourites, but with serial winner Gatland at the helm, the Lions are not without hope.
A short preparation time and the loss of No8 Billy Vunipola hurt, but Gatland has been there, seen it, and done it at the highest level. Any team he is in charge of has a chance.
“I am a proud Kiwi and very passionate about where I come from, but there is no one more committed to beating the All Blacks than myself,” Gatland said.
“There is no doubt the All Blacks are favourites for this Test series, but what I am hoping is that we win over the public and let our rugby do the talking.”