McGeechan to lead Lions to SA again

Ian McGeechan, the man who led the British and Irish Lions to their monumental series victory over South Africa in 1997, has been handed the chance to repeat the achievement against the world champions in 2009.

As was widely expected, the vastly experienced former Scotland and Northampton coach was unveiled on Wednesday as the head coach for the three-Test, 10-match tour from May 30 to July 4 next year.

Once McGeechan indicated his availability, the selection committee of Andy Irvine (Scotland), Gerald Davies (Wales), Noel Murphy (Ireland) and John Spencer (England) were left with a relatively straightforward task once previous favourite Eddie O’Sullivan’s odds lengthened after Ireland’s poor World Cup and Six Nations.

“The 2005 tour was a disappointment and we have a lot to make up for so it is vital we have the best leadership available,” Irvine told a news conference.

“All our attentions turned to securing the best coach available and from day one Ian McGeechan was very much in our thoughts, and it was a unanimous decision to invite him to be head coach and we were delighted he could accept.”

McGeechan has become synonymous with the Lions after a more than 30-year association as player and coach and next year’s trip will be his seventh as coach or player.

He coached them to series victories over Australia in 1989 and then-world champions South Africa in 1997, and came desperately close to beating New Zealand in 1993.

He was also an assistant to Clive Woodward on the 2005 New Zealand tour, making a success of the midweek team in an otherwise disappointing tour.

As a player, the former Scotland centre featured in all four tests of the 1974 series victory over South Africa and all four against New Zealand three years later.

McGeechan is popular and widely respected throughout the game, not least in South Africa where in 1997 he led the unfancied combined team to a famous 2-1 series victory over a powerful Springbok side who had won the World Cup two years before.

One of his masterstrokes then was the choice of Martin Johnson as captain, while his efforts to ensure total integration within the side was widely credited with being key in their success.

McGeechan’s Lions philosophy has always been that selection should be based on form, not reputation, and he backed up his words by regularly opting for players considered outsiders for a Test place when the various tours began.—Reuters