McGeechan ponders Lions Tour

Coach Ian McGeechan has noted the lessons of the 2005 British & Irish Lions tour when the cream of Home Unions rugby were thrashed 3-0 in a Test series by hosts New Zealand.

“There will be one playing group and one coaching group,” said McGeechan, who is in South Africa to undertake a reconnaissance mission, looking at training facilities, match venues and team hotels that his team will be using on next year’s tour.

Said McGeechan, who served as an assistant coach on the 2005 tour: “The Lions are so different and in order to have an understanding of each other you need to be training, working, travelling together.”

When England’s World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward headed up the 2005 tour of NZ, the Lions used two distinct squads (a first XV and a midweek) as well as two separate coaching units.

The midweek squad was pitted against provincial and composite sides. The first XV was made up primarily of players in contention for the Test team.

The concept did not do much for team spirit because the ‘dirt-trackers’ (midweek side) felt they had to overcome the coach’s pre-conceived ideas of the best line-up.

Usually, only when injuries struck did they manage to break into the Test sides.

“We will have a small coaching team with all the coaches being involved and working with every player,” said McGeechan.

“The next 10 days are quite important for Gerald (Davies, the team manager) and myself because it will be the first chance we get to sit down and really think about what we want to do, and how we want to do it.

“By getting everything in place as early as possible it will allow us to focus more easily on the rugby. The most important thing in rugby terms is that the players understand what is expected of them and tactically what you want them to try and do.

“You don’t need to be over complicated and I think that it has to be very clear how you want the players to play.

That has always been my philosophy as a coach and it is important that you create a framework that allows your talent – and there is a lot of it out there – to perform.”

McGeechan said the 2009 tour squad was unlikely to include any major surprises, unlike the 1997 SA tour squad which included two former rugby league heroes, Alan Tait and John Bentley.

“We brought in John Bentley among, I think, six rugby League players that we brought along,” McGeechan recalled. “That was for a very specific reason. The game had only been professional for 12 months.

“They had all been in rugby union but they all understood the professional approach and I think that was very important for the players of the time.

“That is one of the great things that has changed so much in 12 years. The discipline, tactical weight training, I would say, is considerably ahead of anything we were doing in 1997.

“In 1997 it was the first time that we had ever really taken defence seriously and even done practices on it. Now that is just part and parcel of every players’ training make-up. That is what they expect to be doing, so it is things like that have moved on.”

Tait and Bentley offered the Lions great pace and ferocity, which the 2007 Springboks found hard to contain.

Bentley had his fair share of spotlight after the second Test because he refused to shake hands with James Small at the end of the match. He accused Small of dirty play in the match.

“The rugby league players were very important for the professional approach, training and managing yourself, plus they were playing quite well at the time,” McGeechan explained.

Of late, McGeechan has been employed as a director of rugby at London Wasps, where his duties included administration as well as limited coaching activities.

However, he is still as keen as ever on the coaching front. “I have just kept on coaching, he said. “I have said before the word

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