With a mouth-watering Test series against the Springboks almost upon us, Lions past and present have reiterated their belief that Ian McGeechan is the perfect man to lead the class of 2009 to victory in South Africa.
McGeechan is currently taking part in his seventh Lions tour in total and his fifth as a coach.
The former Scotland centre toured South Africa and New Zealand as a player in 1974 and 1977 respectively and has since led the Lions to victory against the Wallabies in 1989 and the Boks in 1997, as well as being involved in the 1993 and 2005 series’ against the All Blacks.
The 62-year-old ex-Northampton and London Wasps supremo is widely regarded as one of the leading figures in the coaching world, a view that is backed up by those who have played under him and alongside him in Lions colours.
The Clubhouse sought the opinions of Lions past and present and were left with only one conclusion: McGeechan is clearly the best man for the job.
Here’s what some of the greatest Lions of recent years had to say when asked to give an insight into what makes McGeechan so special…
Neil Back – England openside who made three Lions tours and played under McGeechan in 1997
Although I was on standby for the 1993 tour, I hadn’t been capped then so I didn’t really expect to go. It was Ian who pencilled me in for the 1997 tour. I had seven caps by then and I’d played in the 1995 World Cup which had given me a bit of profile but it was his recognition of what I could bring on the hard grounds of South Africa that really influenced my selection.
Ian makes everyone feel that they have an opportunity. I went into the 1997 tour as a non-Saturday player but, through him, I was given a carrot and I definitely believed that, if I played well enough, I’d be given an opportunity and that’s what happened.
Ian kept everyone involved and motivated and he was very supportive. That was highlighted after the First Test win in ’97 when the guys who were involved in that Test were all out the next day helping the other guys prepare for the mid-week game. That was indicative of the players that were there and what was influenced by Ian.
Jerry Guscott – Bath and England centre who also played on a hat-trick of Lions tours, tasting victory with McGeechan in both 1989 and 1997
Geech is one of those guys you can’t help but like. He’s got no airs and graces – he’s big enough to take a ribbing – and he’s got the respect of the players as both a coach and a former player.
Willie-John McBride – Lions legend who captained a Test side that included McGeechan to a 3-0 series win over the Springboks in 1974
Ian McGeechan is a guy I know and have travelled with. I have a great regard for Ian McGeechan.
I think his man management is superb and I think he has a good management team around him. He has nothing to learn about this whole scene.
Richard Hill – England flanker who toured three times with the Lions and experienced series victory under McGeechan’s stewardship 12 years ago
Geech is very influential. 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.
Simon Shaw – current Lions squad member who also toured in 1997 and 2005 and was coached by McGeechan on a daily basis at Guinness Premiership side London Wasps
Ian had a massive impact on the 1997 tour. While the New Zealand tour in 2005 wasn’t that successful in terms of the Test matches, the side that he looked after went unbeaten and that says a lot about him. That side probably enjoyed the tour more than the side that predominantly played on a Saturday.
He was able to keep spirits high and to keep things positive. That’s something he does very well.
Andy Irvine – Lions chairman in 2009 who played in six successive Lions Tests alongside McGeechan in 1974 and 1977
If you look at Geech’s record it really speaks for itself. He is proven to be successful over a long period of time.
We approached him and the big question was: ‘Is the hunger still there? He is as fired up as he has ever been and there are similarities in that between Geech and Sir Alex Ferguson. He has been coaching at the top for 20 years but he is as enthusiastic now as I have ever seen him.
The desire and the hunger is there and he is young for his age. He is fit as a flea and he just loves the Lions to bits.