British & Irish Lions
'Lions are bigger than the All Blacks'
April 25, 2013
Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan will be a keen observer Down Under later this year © Getty Images
Sir Ian McGeechan has hailed the British & Irish Lions as the biggest box office draw in the game and urged administrators to give them a 'fighting chance' chance to compete against the world's best.
McGeechan, who orchestrated the Lions' last series victory over South Africa in 1997, insists no other side in the world can rival the elite tourists' appeal - not even world champions New Zealand - and has backed them to go from strength to strength in Australia later this year.
"If you've got a team that go halfway around the world and take 35,000 people with it to support it, then in the year it exists it's the biggest team in world rugby," he told PA Sport. "It's bigger than the All Blacks, it's an absolute phenomenon.
"When the game went professional in 1997, the tour was a critical one and winning that series in South Africa established the Lions when there were question marks about whether they could exist in a professional era. They've just gone from strength to strength. For Australia, they see it as their biggest rugby event. There's a big impact on the countries where the Lions go."
However, McGeechan fears their chances of success in Australia could be jeopardised by a packed calendar that will see the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12 finals take place just a day before the elite tourists head Down Under.
"For the players the Lions is the biggest jersey they can wear," McGeechan said. "All I would like to see is rugby administrators giving them the best fighting chance with an extra week's preparation.
"The first two or three weeks will be critical in Warren Gatland being able to get all the players together and on the same wavelength. By week five, you are looking at preparing for a Test match. My philosophy was to give every player the opportunity to show what he can do in a Lions jersey so they have to be playing in those first four weeks.
"As a coach, not only is time a challenge but so actually keeping your powder dry as to what you think the best combinations are and then really going for it that week before the Test match."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.