Ian McGeechan, the most experienced coach in the world of rugby, will lead the British & Irish Lions to South Africa in 2009 as Head Coach.
Thirty-four years to the week the London Wasps Director of Rugby made his Lions debut in the 59-13 win over Western Transvaal at Olen Park, Potchestroom, the 61-year-old Scot was handed the key role of coaching the Lions against the reigning World Champions.
It will be the seventh time McGeechan has toured with the Lions – twice as a player, four times as Head Coach and once as an assistant coach – and he heads back to South Africa for a third time.
The 1974 tour was his first as a player and he played in 14 matches, including all four Tests. On that occasion he won 13 and drew 1 as the Lions took the series 3-0 and went through their tour undefeated.
He returned in 1997 as Head Coach and masterminded another stunning series victory over the then World Champion Springboks, 2-1. On that tour the Lions played 13 games and won 11, leaving him with the following record as player and coach in South Africa: Played 27 Won 24 Drew 1 Lost 2 overall and in the Tests Played 7 Won 5 Drew 1 Lost 1.
“Having had a sniff of the Lions again three years ago in New Zealand I realised how important it is to me and to the players,” said McGeechan after being unveiled as the 2009 Head Coach by Lions Committee Chairman Andy Irvine.
“The Lions are special, they are unique in rugby. I have a very strong philosophy about what I feel the Lions are all about and what they should try to achieve.
“Let’s face it, 10 games in seven weeks is an unique challenge that has to be prepared for meticulously. We need a tight group and I need coaches and players around me who can work and knit together.
“The fact South Africa are the reigning World Champions again will make it a very special trip for everyone. The 2009 Lions will be facing three Cup Finals in the Test matches.
“It is very important from Day 1 that everyone understands what this trip is about. I want one coaching team and one group of players.
“We will take about 35 or 36 players on the tour and unity will be critical.”
McGeechan will continue to coach at London Wasps and with the IRB’s Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) due to come into play in the northern hemisphere in September he feels it is important for him to maintain a hands-on coaching role.
“I think it is vital that I remain a hands-on coach in the build-up to the 2009 tour and see how the ELVs work,” he added.
“Over the next few months I hope, with Tour Manager Gerald Davies, to get the coaching and management team together. Then we will assess the players ahead of what is going to be an incredible tour.”