Warren Gatland has said he won’t block Shaun Edwards if his assistant chooses to leave Wales for England before the World Cup.
Edwards – who has spent a decade alongside Gatland in the Wales coaching set-up – has a contract with the Welsh Rugby Union that runs to the end of the tournament next year.
But the defence specialist is on England’s radar as they seek a replacement for Paul Gustard, who joined Harlequins last week.
Gatland, though, insists Edwards will not be forced to stay, even though the two countries could face each other in a quarter-final in Japan.
“My attitude to my staff and coaches is that if opportunities come along, you’ve got to look at them if they are the best option for you and for your family and the future,’ said Gatland.
“You have to realise these coaches are going to be out of a job post World Cup and this speculation is coming around now because there’s an acceptance that is going to happen.
“People say these sorts of things are disruptive, but they aren’t at all.
“Players and staff are used to them and we’ve all been through situations where coaches have changed.
“With Shaun, there was the Harlequins thing and there’s been talk about other codes and England as well, but I’m very comfortable.
“We’ve worked together for a huge number of years and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Gatland and Edwards – who worked together at Wasps – are still close, although not as tightly-knit as they were before Edwards was overlooked by Gatland for the 2013 Lions tour to Australia.
The New Zealander would prefer the pair to continue together until they both leave their positions with Wales next November, but if the RFU come calling and Edwards wants to jump ship then there is unlikely to be any dispute.
Gatland added: “Having chatted with Shaun, his attitude is that he wants to be here for the World Cup, but that he wants to be thinking about what happens after that,” said Gatland.
“If something comes along before that then he potentially needs to consider it and I’m completely okay with that.
“If there is potentially an offer there that is life-changing, then I’m comfortable with that, but I’d love him to stay.”
Gatland has named an experimental team to face South Africa in Washington on Saturday and rounded on critics who have labelled the Test a devalued exercise.
Wales are in the American capital prior to their two-match tour of Argentina with their clash at the RFK Stadium taking place outside World Rugby’s designated Test window.
Critics have branded the encounter as a money-grabbing exercise with former Wales captain Gwyn Jones declaring it a “shambles” which “devalues international rugby.”
Both teams have named youthful sides, but Gatland views the 80 minutes as a vital part of his team’s preparation for next year’s World Cup.
“If anyone has come out and criticised this match, they’re completely ill-informed in terms of how important it is for the long term,” he said.
“I think you would have to be someone with a chip on your shoulder or be pretty bitter and twisted to criticise this match because I see it as absolutely vital in terms of our long-term planning for 2019.
“It’s about creating depth and replicating conditions that are going to be very much the same in Japan. Playing in a different situation, a different culture, travelling, and putting ourselves out of our comfort zone all make for a really important stepping stone for us.”