Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan says becoming involved with the world’s most-famous touring team changed his life.
The man known as ‘Mr Lions’ has enjoyed unparalleled success with Britain and Ireland’s elite, with his stellar Lions career spanning an incredible four decades.
McGeechan toured twice with the Lions as a player, starting every one of the eight Tests on the 1977 trip to New Zealand and the historic, unbeaten tour of South Africa three years earlier.
Now 64, McGeechan went on to coach the Lions to stunning series victories over the Wallabies in 1989 and the Springboks in 1997. He was also head coach on the tour to New Zealand in 1993 and South Africa in 2009 and acted as an assistant coach on Sir Clive Woodward’s 2005 tour, taking charge of the unbeaten mid-week side in difficult circumstances.
There can be no doubt that McGeechan has given as much, if not more, to the Lions’ cause than anyone who went before him yet the man himself insists that he has taken just as much from the experience as he has given.
And despite the next tour Down Under still being close to three years away, McGeechan can already feel the buzz of the Lions once more.
“In all honesty, the Lions changed my life, my thinking, just by having the privilege to be associated with it,” said McGeechan, at a Lions event to confirm First Cape’s continued sponsorship for the trip to Australia.
“It is unique. There’s already excitement looking forward to an event that’s three years ahead, which is quite incredible.
“The Lions has become very important to a lot of people and a lot of supporters are already looking forward to a fantastic tour.
“Australia are going to be fantastic opponents. To score 59 points against France in Paris takes some doing, so they are in good shape.
“For our part, Andy Irvine is already in place as manager three years before the tour and two major sponsors are involved already. It shows just how important preparation is.”
Sir Ian McGeechan has already given so much to the Lions
As for his own potential involvement in 2013, McGeechan has already made it clear he hopes to be able to offer advice prior to the Lions’ departure for Australia.
The former Scotland, Northampton and Wasps boss, who is now director of rugby at Bath, believes professional planning will be play a central role in the tourists’ chances of success against the Wallabies.
“I would like to think I am giving some advice on the itinerary,” added McGeechan, who insisted he wouldn’t put himself forward for the head coach role following the series in South Africa but has since faced plenty of questions from the media as to his availablity.
“It is important to have a well-planned tour. The days are gone when you just get an itinerary handed to you by your opponents and are told to get on with it.
“I think everything has to come to the table in having a balanced tour. It’s very important the Lions have the opportunity to be competitive and that the games leading into the first Test actually enhance what the Lions are capable of and don’t detract from it.
“If we do that I think we can have a tour that everybody can be proud of, whether Australian, British or Irish.
“The challenge is being able to put together a Test match team in five weeks to play against world-class opposition.”
Life as a Lions legend: McGeechan’s Lions factfile
As a player
1974 South Africa P14 W13 D1 L0
1977 New Zealand* P16 W11 D0 L5
Overall P30 W24 D1 L5
Overall Tests P8 W 4 D1 L3
As head coach
1989 Australia P12 W11 D0 L1
1993 New Zealand P13 W 7 D0 L6
1997 South Africa P13 W11 D0 L2
2009 South Africa P10 W 7 D1 L2
OverallP48 W36 D1 L11
Overall Tests P12 W 6 D0 L6
As mid-week coach
2005 New Zealand* P12 W 7 D1 L4
Overall Coaching P60 W43 D2 L15
Overall Lions P90 W67 D3 L20
* 1977 includes game v Fiji
* 2005 includes game against Argentina