Ian McGeechan has been hailed as ‘the greatest ever Lion’ just days before he announces his squad to take on the world champion Springboks this summer.
And the ringing endorsement for the man who will be taking part in his seventh British & Irish Lions tour this year has come from someone who was there when it all began, his 1974 centre partner Dick Milliken.
The Ulster and Ireland midfield powerhouse formed a formidable centre pairing with the Scotsman on that unbeaten tour 35 years ago and is backing his former team-mate to add even more glory to his Lions CV.
"Ian has made the greatest contribution to the Lions ethos. He was not a superstar in his playing days, like a Gareth Edwards, but, when you put the whole package together, he’s been incredible," said Milliken.
"He was an excellent international player at the highest level and a brilliant coach. You only have to look at the number of Lions tours he has been on to see that.
"He should probably have led the Lions in 2001 and 2005, although by then he possibly needed a break. I’m not sure how he’s had the stamina to keep it up.
"But he’s still got the desire and hunger for rugby and he loves nothing better than getting the tracksuit on and improving a player. He’s got a great eye for detail.
"He gets the respect of players and will bring all the old amateur values to the fore on this year’s tour and mould them into a successful professional team."
Ian McGeechan has the Lions in his heart
Milliken believes McGeechan is the perfect man to combine the amateur ethos of the past with the professional requirements of the modern-day game.
Having experienced life with the Lions as both a player and a coach, McGeechan understands exactly what is needed for the class of 2009 to return with the Lions’ first series win in 12 years.
"There’s still a huge role for the Lions in the modern, professional game and I believe Ian will leave a fantastic legacy. We will still want to remember the Lions in 35 years time and the players of 2009 will create a bond and friendship with each other that will last for life.
"It’s great that Ian is trying to recapture the Lions spirit of old. Several players from the last two Lions tours came back and said they didn’t enjoy it. That meant people raised the question about the relevance of the Lions in the professional era.
"I know that Ian wants to restore the value of the Lions. Whenever I meet up with the guys who went on the 1974 tour that special bond is still there.
"It will be fantastic for the players who go to South Africa this summer to enjoy each other’s company, the rugby and to embrace the whole Lions ethos.
"Being part of a Lions tour is a unique experience and Ian and tour manager Gerald Davies will take the Lions back to its roots."