Ian McGeechan believes his British & Irish Lions side of 2009 will face a tougher task than his series winning team of 1997 when they face the world champions next year.
Having seen the Springboks at first hand over the past two weeks playing against the Six Nations champions, Wales, McGeechan now has a better understanding of what lies ahead of his 2009 tourists. Under new coach Peter de Villiers, the Boks won the series 2-0.
“There is no doubt the Springboks will be a stronger team next year than they were in 1997,”said McGeechan.
“Now we are 12 years into the professional era, whereas we were just a few months into it in 1997. A lot has changed since those days and the challenge next year will be much, much bigger.
“It’s really great that we will be facing the world champions again, just as we did in 1997. That’s good not only for South Africa, but also for the Lions and all their supporters.
“Many of the players are already talking about the tour and when one sees men like John Smit, Victor Matfield and Percy Montgomery all coming back to the country just to stand a chance of playing the Lions, then you realise just how big it is to any rugby player.
“There is huge respect for the Lions – it’s going to be a special occasion. It doesn’t get much bigger than the Lions and everyone wants to be a part of it."
One player who put up his hand for selection for another Lions tour overt the past two weeks was Wales wing Shane Williams. His wonder try at Loftus Versveld helped Wales to push the Springboks all the way in the second Test.
It was a performance that earned him rave reviews from the Welsh coaching team – and must have impressed McGeechan.
“As for the players who will come into contention for the Lions, well, the next six to eight months are going to be key. Some of the younger players are involved in impressive first seasons for their countries, so hopefully they’ll be in peak condition for next season,” said the Lions Head Coach.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to put a really competitive side together for the trip.”