Irvine impressed with 6N

Lions team manager Andy Irvine says the 6 Nations has given him plenty of hope ahead of the 2013 tour to Australia. [more]

Irvine impressed with 6N

Lions team manager Andy Irvine says the 6 Nations has given him plenty of hope ahead of the 2013 tour to Australia.

Irvine, who was chairman when the Lions headed to South Africa three years ago, has been impressed with what he’s seen so far in the northern hemisphere’s showpiece event.

The former Scotland full back has been particularly pleased with the young talent coming through in each of the Home Nations, as well as the form of some of the more established names in British and Irish rugby.

And with nearly 15 months still to go until the Lions travel Down Under the summer after this, Irvine believes balancing the old and the new will stand the globe’s most famous touring team in good stead against a world-class Wallaby outfit.

“From what I’ve seen over the last few weeks in the 6 Nations, we’ve got some fantastic young talent emerging. I think that when we’re out there next summer, we’ll certainly be up for the test,” Irvine told this website.

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“I’ve been greatly relieved. We’ve got to be realistic here: Australia have got some really world-class talent.

“You’re always hoping that someone will emerge from each 6 Nations that can be on centre stage and live with the very best. I’m not going to put pressure on the players by naming them but there are certainly five or six who have really shone through this season who were almost unheard of a year or two ago.

“Even if those players just maintain and don’t improve from where they are, they will be on that plane and that’s greatly encouraging.

“It’s also good to see some of our older, experienced Lions players in good form. When you go on tour, you need a balance. You can’t just have a lot of young bucks who are enthusiastic and have a lot of potential – you need the blend of the older boys who’ve been there, seen it, done it and can bring on these younger players.

“From what I’ve seen so far in this 6 Nations, I’m pretty happy on both fronts.”

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Andy Irvine believes the Lions are in good shape ahead of the 2013 tour

Competition for places on a Lions tour is always intense as the cream of four countries come together for one incredible adventure, but 2013 looks like setting a new standard as to what’s required to make the trip to Hong Kong and Australia.

With so many young players pushing the older generation for selection and with a seemingly endless stream of talent hopefully hitting form at the right time, Irvine knows there will be plenty of disappointed players when it comes to final selection in April of next year.

Selecting the squad for the latest instalment of Lions action will clearly be an incredibly difficult and painstaking task but choosing which top talent to leave behind is a headache Irvine insists the soon-to-be appointed head coach will welcome.

“That’s exactly what you want – you want competition to be fierce,” added Irvine.

“In certain positions it’s going to be embarrassingly fierce. We’re going to have to leave at home some players who are probably world class. But that’s a great thing and that’s where you hope that your coach has got the right judgement.

“Selection is absolutely vital – it’s not just about merging the players together and getting the right systems and structure, it’s also about ensuring you’ve got the right selection in the first place. That’s not easy because you’ve got such a diverse array of talent to look at.

“The 2009 tour was probably as wide open as any tour I can think of, particularly when you thought about who could be in the Test side. I’m not so sure it will be quite so wide open this time but it’ll be not far from it.

“That’s a good thing and a healthy thing, although you do always want to have four of five bankers that you know are going to be the spine of your team. I definitely think we’re in a good place now.”

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Irvine saw first hand how tough the competition for places was in 2009

As for the man who will have the ultimate say in selection, Irvine admits the appointment of a head coach is imminent.

Irvine, a tourist as a player in 1974, 1977 and 1980, hopes to have the new head coach in place in just two to three months, giving the chosen man a full year to prepare for what will be the biggest sporting event of 2013.

“Things are coming on well. We’re very hopeful that sometime in May we’ll be announcing the head coach.

“Once that’s announced, we’ll be looking at the assistants positions because we’d like to try and get them in place as early as possible. The medics in particular have an awful lot of planning to do.

“We obviously don’t want to say too much until after the 6 Nations but thereafter it will be full steam ahead.”

So what it is exactly that Irvine and the Lions committee are looking for in their coaching candidates?

Sir Ian McGeechan has proved time and time again that coaching the Lions requires something extra special, a separate skill set to coaching club or country and a deep understanding of what makes the Lions so unique.

Irvine and co will be hoping to find all those attributes in the next person to be handed the keys to the top job, with personality off the field seemingly as important as performance on it.

“We’re looking at how their teams are playing and what input they’ve had into their teams. Some sides have slightly stronger squads than others so for some coaches it’s a little bit easier than others.

“How they conduct themselves is also very important because the coach is going to be in the front line even more than the team manager. They will be the face of the Lions and they will go out to Australia as an ambassador for all four countries.

“That side of things is very, very important. And let’s be honest, it’s an incredibly stressful job.

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Irvine is on the look out for Sir Ian McGeechan's successor

“So all these things come into account, as well as things like how they see the ethos of a Lions tour, do they support the traditions and the value and will they get the support and the respect of the players?

“It’s very different from coaching your country. Having said that, it’s nothing like how it used to be when I played when you were away on tours for three or three-and-a-half months. These tours are much shorter but it’s still very different from anything they are doing with their national sides.

“There’s a whole load of factors because it’s a major role – one of the highest honours in rugby is to coach such a team because it’s much harder than a national side. You’ve not just got the nationalities of the players, you’ve got the nationalities of the supporters to try and keep on side as well so it’s a great challenge.”

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