British & Irish Lions will leave nothing to chance

South Africa can prepare themselves for the most meticulously planned British and Irish Lions tour yet when they embark on their South African sojourn of 10 matches in seven weeks in 2009.


That much was clear from media conference by coach Ian McGeechan and manager Gerald Davies on Sunday. The pair arrived in Cape Town 10 days ago on an operational tour to identify hotels, facilities and training grounds for the tourists to use next year.

 

McGeechan said that they will still visit South Africa several times before the tour.

The timing of this visit was planned to coincide with the Wales Tests to ascertain what type of player may be needed by the Lions for next year’s tour.


“We had the intention of getting a first view of the Boks – particularly as they were playing against Wales,” McGeechan said.


They will also watch the Springboks’ tour of the UK at the end of the year with great interest, they visited all the stadiums where matches will be played with the exception of the venue for the first match against a Highveld XV at Royal Bafokeng.


This weekend’s Youth Day (a bank holiday) has seen to that with the stadium being closed.


“But we’ll have a look there when we come back in August for South Africa’s three tri Nations tests,” McGeechan said.


The 2009 will be his fourth as a coach. The 61-year-old McGeechan has a long and successful association with the Lions. He played in all four Tests for the unbeaten 1974 Lions to South Africa and also made the 1977 side as a player.


He was the Lions’ head coach in 1989, 1993 and 1997 and was the assistant coach under Sir Clive Woodward in 2005.


Unlike many British supporters who see it as a negative that the Lions play all their matches and Tests away from home, he feels this can be turned into a positive.


“The Lions are so different from anything else. We also no longer have tours lasting seven weeks in which 10 matches are played. It is in the uniqueness of the tour that our planning must reflect and address the challenges.


“We have to consider the time factor, venues, keeping the players fresh and ensure that they have the opportunity to play well in all environments,” he said, the last being partly in reference to the altitude problem.


Instead of it being a negative, we have to become part of South African rugby for the duration of the tour. That, and the uniqueness of the tour, makes a positive, in fact.”


McGeechan regards the Springboks as stronger than in 1997.”They (South Africa) have now been into professional rugby for a lengthy period in stead of just 12 months. They have been quite impressive (against Wales) and have lots of talent as well as a good mix of young and experienced players,” he said.


Unlike their last tour, the Lions will not play a warm-up match before departure to South Africa, “We will probably have a week in the UK and then another week in South Africa before the first match to prepare,” he said.


The team will probably be announced late in the UK autumn after whittling down an initial squad of 65 to about 35 before the announcement.


Sapa – Rugbyweek.com

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