A trio of Lions heroes met in Birmingham today for the latest HSBC Lions Legends event in the build up to this summer’s highly-anticipated tour of South Africa.
Five-times tourist Willie-John McBride discussed all things Lions alongside David Duckham, a star of the historic 1971 tour of New Zealand, and Richard Hill, a Lion of each of the three most-recent tours.
Each of the Lions greats was in confident mood ahead of the three-match Test series against the Springboks, although all three men admitted that the challenge ahead of the class of 2009 is a sizeable one.
“We have the right management, the right support around the coach and manager and, I think, we have the right players around and I’m sure that the coaches will select them,” said McBride, who captained the Lions on their unbeaten tour of South Africa 35 years ago.
“I have the greatest regard for South African rugby. It’s not an easy place to play and it’s not an easy place to win.
“They’re world champions for a start, and they have been before. South Africa and New Zealand have a different attitude to winning. They don’t talk about losing. They only talk about winning. We’ve got to get the attitude right.”
Duckham, the left wing in three of the four Tests against the All Blacks in 1971, and Hill, who was a series winner in South Africa 12 years ago, believe that the presence of head coach Ian McGeechan will be a huge boost for the Lions’ chances of success.
“Geech is very influential,” said Hill, who played under the Scot in two of the three Tests in 1997.
“He’s a great tactician. When you see some of the videos of him and Jim Telfer from 1997, you can get an idea of the magnitude of how articulate they were, the words they chose and how motivational and how passionate they were themselves. Of course, that rubs off on the players.”
“Ian McGeechan is easily still the best rugby coach we’ve got in these four countries,” added former Coventry and England star Duckham.
“There’s no doubt about that. It was no surprise to see him selected again, and you’ve also got a very astute manager in Gerald Davies. He’s very erudite about the game and extremely knowledgeable. That will add a huge amount of weight to the Lions’ offensive out there.
“They know what they’re up against playing South Africa. They’re the world champions and it won’t be easy. There’s no doubt that the players will lift themselves when it comes to this tour.
“The players still regard the Lions as the pinnacle, even as professionals, and that’s very reassuring.”
The next HSBC Lions Legends event takes place next Friday, March 20 in Manchester and features England’s Jeremy Guscott, Scotland’s Gavin Hastings and Welshman Scott Quinnell.
HSBC is Principal Partner of the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.