British & Irish Lions
McGeechan the man to manage the Lions
July 15, 2009
Ian McGeechan may not have waved goodbye to the Lions for good © Getty Images
Gerald Davies Riki Flutey Gethin Jenkins Adam Jones Ian McGeechan Brian O'Driscoll Jamie Roberts Joe Worsley
Ian McGeechan swears that was his last Lions tour as a coach but I wonder whether he could be tempted to go back to Australia in four years time as manager. He has succeeded as a player and a coach so why not make it the full set?
Seriously, he is the ideal candidate. Nobody has more experience and knowledge of the problems the Lions have to confront on and off the field and nobody commands more respect as a Lions' leader. Sixty-six might be too old for a coach - his words not mine - but as a candidate for manager he will be in his prime.
He is also available. Having severed his ties with Wasps he will now take time-off to concentrate on his daughter's wedding and then he's free.
One of Gerald Davies' top recommendations will be that the manager is appointed as soon as possible as I flagged up last week and it would be a huge bonus if McGeechan were in place to discuss the proposed match schedule with the Australian Rugby Union right from the start.
He would also be an invaluable negotiator with the Four Home Unions and the clubs so that everything possible is done to make the Lions even more competitive than they were in South Africa.
When he announced his retirement he made the point very forcefully. 'Speak to any of the players. There is nothing bigger than this. That includes World Cups in the players' eyes.
'The people who run the game, particularly the Four Home Unions and the Clubs, have to take that into account.
The Lions is now a multi-million pound business and it would be a fitting finale to McGeechan's career because he deserves a huge vote of thanks for putting it back on track.
A huge number of supporters in South Africa had never seen the Lions win until that famous victory in the third Test and another debacle like New Zealand four years ago would have seriously undermined the whole credibility of the last international touring team.
McGeechan (and Davies who pledged that the Lions would be real tourists, training and travelling as a group throughout, as soon as he was appointed) once again proved that it is possible to succeed despite all the odds.
As I have said before they will be very disappointed when they look back at the manner of the defeats in the first two Tests, particularly the second, but that third Test performance was truly stupendous and a tribute to some clever lateral thinking by the head coach.
The contribution of the 'mid-week' players has always been vital on Lions tours. Unless they stay focused the whole mood in the camp loses its intensity - more holiday camp than training camp - and that is fatal especially now that the injury count is so high.
When Jamie Roberts, Brian O'Driscoll, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones were all ruled out of the third Test it could have had a catastrophic effect on team morale - even the captain, Paul O'Connell, unashamedly described Roberts and O'Driscoll as their two best players - but McGeechan looked at the guys who had something to prove and was even more radical in his selection than was strictly necessary.
I think he probably remembered the third Test in 1997. Then he had been pretty conservative in selection despite knowing some of his senior players were almost out on their feet after two gruelling Tests (there was also the reaction to having already won the series) and, predictably, the Lions were hammered.
This time he realised the work horses, David Wallace and Tom Croft, had given it everything and would struggle to put in a full shift for the third week running.
In contrast Joe Worsley was desperate to make an impression on the tour as was Martyn Williams whose personal battle with Wallace had been interrupted by injury.
Riki Flutey was also bursting out of his skin, frustrated by the way Roberts and O'Driscoll had gelled into an irresistible mid-field combination (what a pity we shall never see them play together again at that level - but that is another thing that makes a Lions tour so special).
On the wings Shane Williams was relishing any opportunity to show he had not lost his magic and Ugo Monye realised this was his chance for redemption - both succeeded.
The result was a fresh, revitalised team. McGeechan might have been a little carried away when he said the Lions would have defeated any Springbok XV that day but they certainly looked sharper than at any other time on tour.
The verdict? A disappointing build-up in the provincial matches but three of the most exciting Tests you could ever wish to see. They were ultra physical, played at great pace and they averaged four tries a game - perfect.
This was also a tremendous advertisement for Northern Hemisphere rugby. The Lions showed they could mix it with the World Champions and nobody now doubts they can still be a force in world rugby. They will always start as underdogs but with more assertive planning - and the Lions hold all the aces because the host nations need them more than the other way round - I am sure they are still capable of winning a series and not just the odd Test.
Next up it's the Wallabies - with Geech as manager they are definitely beatable!
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and a regular contributor to Scrum.com