The morning after the night before can bring with it some troublesome headaches and, for the British & Irish Lions, the day after their magnificent win over the Springboks brought the realization that this is the end of the road for the man many call "the greatest ever Lion".
Ian McGeechan confirmed at his end of tour wrap-up press conference that 2009 was his last tour as a head coach. If that was the bad news, given his amazing record of six wins from 12 Tests in that capacity on four tours, it was a totally black morning.
The 62-year-old Scot may have conceded defeat in the battle with his long suffering wife in promising not to commit to such an arduous role in the future, but he refused to rule himself out of the running of any involvement with the Lions in the future.
The tour to Australia in 2013 will mark the 125th anniversary of the first tour made overseas by a team from the British Isles, and therefore the original Lions. Given the way that McGeechan and tour manager Gerald Davies revived the Lions brand on the 2009 tour, one or both could certainly fill a major role in four years time.
But for now, McGeechan can sit back and reflect on a job almost perfectly done. Here are a few of his headline thoughts on the tour.
I was very proud of Saturday – this group of players are as tight a unit as I have ever worked with under pressure.
It’s got better and bigger and I hope that the people who are associated with the players on a long term basis understand that there should be a very careful look at how you prepare for a Lions tour.
This is no doubt the best group and best organised we’ve been
McGeechan will be putting in a detailed end of tour report, but believes that many of the wrongs of 2005 have been corrected in South Africa. He concedes the Lions came up short in the Test series, but feels they have now re-established themselves as a competitive and credible force – one capable fo going to Australia in four years time and winning.
Here are his wider thoughts on the tour from his press conference:
ON THE TOUR PARTY
I think this has been the best co-ordinated tour in terms of the medical, management, conditioning and coaching staff. We tried to make sure that it was like an intense, Test environment from day one and that the players were managed from day one.
ON THE WINNING FEELING
I was very proud of yesterday – this group of players are as tight a unit as I have ever worked with under pressure. I think last Saturday (in Durban) was the lowest I have ever felt. We took those two or three days off, but the players came back well and trained Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and were superb – absolutely excellent. The players have been outstanding and were very much ready for a Test match. I’m really proud of the way we’ve finished it and we can carry a winning Lions jersey for the next four years.
ON THE STANDARDS IN THE SERIES
It exceeded my expectations. We knew that South Africa were in good shape. They are a powerful team and at the top of the tree at the moment. But we also knew that there were certain ways we would have to play to try and put them under pressure. They do have strengths in most areas so, really, to pull together the game we’ve played, and to keep that going for three Test matches with a change of personnel, leaves me feeling really very proud of that achievement from everybody.
ON ANY CHANGES
To have an extra weeks preparation – it was a little bit tight and there was a bit of persuasion involved to have the full set of players for that week but we got round that. The only two major things on the IRB calendar are the Lions tours and the World Cup so you would hope that there is enough planning that goes into that. People need to understand just how big a Lions tour is to a player that hasn’t changed and if anything it’s got better and bigger and I hope that the people who are associated with the players on a long term basis understand that there should be a very careful look at how you prepare for a Lions tour.
ON THE LIONS BRAND
There are different people running different elements of the game and I think we need to have that co-ordinated because the Lions are an integral part of the professional game. Just because the Lions have been around for a long time doesn’t mean they are out of date or out of touch. Speak to any of the players and they’ll tell you there is nothing bigger than this – nothing. And that includes the World Cup. That has to be taken into account by the people who run the game, particularly the Home Unions and the clubs. They have to understand that there should be an integrated and co-ordinated process in a Lions season. I would hope that after this tour there is a lot of empathy with the Lions. In a professional business sense, if you can take 40,000 people 6,000 miles to watch a rugby team then that is not a bad business model. I think our CEO John Feehan has done a good job and there is a Lions Board now. It is getting stronger and stronger
ON THE LEGACY OF THE 2009 LIONS
There will be some players on this tour, coaches and management who will be there for Australia in four years time. That is where a legacy is born and I think that they should be helping drive the Lions forward. I said before this tour that we have to set the standard, we have to set the environment into which these players are coming. The way we operate as coaches and management gives them the environment and then they take it over. Now it is totally the player’s environment and that’s the way it should be. This is no doubt the best group and best organised we’ve been and I’m thankful that I got the chance to plan over a year and come out three times.
ON LIONS SUCCESSION
I think there are some younger management in all areas and there is succession plan there. The medical and conditioning teams, the analysts and the other people on this tour have been superb. It’s the same with the coaches – Warren Gatland, Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards. Whether Gats will still be in Wales in four years time I don’t know, but these guys have made a fantastic group and everyone has bought something to the table. I think the hardest thing is for the Head Coach to dedicate his time to the planning, but I will be making some recommendations on that.
We said to the players we would pick on form and we did that. We thought we’d got the right combinations and we weren’t far off. Yes, there were some things in the scrum that the referee picked up on, unfortunately. It made it difficult in that first-half in the first Test, but they were redressed and it was just about analysing and tweaking and I felt we had a good balance.
ON TICKET PRICES
I wish the ticket prices would have been different because I think the Lions tour takes rugby to the communities. That was why we traveled around together as one party. Logistically that was very tough. If you are going to do that then you want the stadiums to have a good turn-out and the disappointment for me was not seeing a full house in those provincial games.