2013 British & Irish Lions
McGeechan welcomes two-captains concept
November 2, 2012
Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan insists Martin Johnson was quite clearly the man to lead the elite tourists to South Africa in 1997 © Getty Images
Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan has welcomed the prospect of the British & Irish Lions possibly naming a tour captain and then a skipper for the eagerly-anticipated clash with Australia next year.
Lions boss Warren Gatland raised the prospect of the ground-breaking move earlier this week by insisting he would pick the best players for their showdown with the Wallabies and then the captain with form in the lead up to the three-match series and not reputation the deciding factor.
It is not a concept that McGeechan officially adopted during any of the four tours where he acted as head coach but he believes the likely abundance of proven leaders set to be at Gatland's disposal makes it a logical step to take with the likes of Wales captain Sam Warburton, his England counterpart Chris Robshaw and Ireland duo Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, who have both captained their country and the Lions, among those set to be in the mix.
"The most important thing is getting the right squad," McGeechan told ESPNscrum. "Once you have that then you look at your best options for captain. I know there is talk of having an initial squad captain and then looking at the Test team and picking a captain for the Tests. There are a number of strong contenders so that is an obvious route to keep open."
Reflecting on his own unrivalled experience in charge of the elite tourists, McGeechan revealed that his captain would more often than not be a clear choice but highlighted the importance of other 'leaders' within the squad.
"I knew the captains fairly early on in my own mind on the tours I had," he said. "The best example is probably Martin Johnson who hadn't captained anybody [in 1997]. I had seen the impact Johnno had had on other players - his own team-mates and opponents - and particularly my team at Northampton when he was playing against us. That was an argument I had to win in some respects but I immediately felt he was the right personality to build a group around."
But McGeechan was also keen to stress the key influence of others who emerged during the course of a tour - in particular the Lions' last visit to Australia in 1989 that produced their most recent victory over the Wallabies.
"Australia in '89 was slightly different," he recalled. "Finlay Calder was captain and Donal Lenihan was almost squad captain but it wasn't quite put out that way. But in the end Donal was very instrumental in the environment that was created on that tour due to the responsibility he took for the non-Test players."
But will Gatland opt to make it an official policy when he names his squad in April when the captain is also traditionally confirmed? And will the restrictions posed by an intense tour schedule and limited playing opportunities even offer room for another contender to press his captaincy claims? McGeechan insists time will tell with the final make-up of the tour squad set to provide the answer.
"I think it is more obvious if you take three international captains with you," said McGeechan referring to the possible presence of Warburton, Robshaw and O'Driscoll with Scotland captain Kelly Brown another who may force his way into the conversation. "And Paul O'Connell might also still be there so you might be talking about three or four captains who are within that group. So it is not a case of another captain evolving, it is ultimately deciding that this is the Test team and he's the right personality to be captain."
Sir Ian McGeechan is the ambassador for FirstCape wine which has launched www.lionswineclub.com in association with The British & Irish Lions. For more information about FirstCape wine visit www.firstcape.com
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.