Ian McGeechan: Leagues are wrecking Lions' chances

Former coach attacks lack of preparation for Australia caused by busy domestic schedules

Sir Ian McGeechan is rarely aggressive in his condemnations, but just occasionally, when he feels forced to defend something he cherishes, he can be very sharp indeed. Less than a fortnight before the grandest announcement of the rugby calendar – the naming of the British and Irish Lions party for the forthcoming series in Australia – he declared that the tourists would be meeting the challenge with one hand tied behind their backs.

It was a striking comment, born of the great strategist's frustration at what he sees as the inflexibility of the two major domestic leagues in this part of the world: the English Premiership and the four-nation Pro 12, where most of the leading Celts play their bread-and-butter rugby. McGeechan, who toured twice with the Lions as a player and went on to perform the head coach duties on a further four occasions, fears this year's "best of the best" may be compromised by a lack of preparation time.

By way of making matters worse, the French Top 14 title will not be decided until 1 June – the day the Lions play the first of their 10 matches, against what may well be an unusually strong Barbarians side in Hong Kong. As a result, a number of big-name candidates for Lions duty currently earning their corn across the water, the World Cup-winning England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson among them, are either unavailable or the next thing to it.

"Most of the recommendations we made after the last tour were taken on board," said McGeechan, who took the Lions to within a hair's breadth of victory over South Africa in 2009. "What disappoints me most is that the Premiership and the Pro 12 are holding their finals on a weekend that could, with better organisation, have been planned as a Lions training week. It would have helped the squad, definitely. A Lions tour is the biggest thing, and we have to be big enough to say: 'If we're going to do it, let's do it properly.'

"When we first got together as a squad four years ago, some of the players were involved in a Heineken Cup final and needed recovery time. In effect, we prepared for the first game in South Africa without them, with a view to getting them involved in the second game. This time, there are two finals for the coaches to deal with. We seem to have built in an unfairness towards the Lions – an unfairness that is of our own making.

"For Warren Gatland [McGeechan's successor as head coach], it's a bigger challenge than I faced in 2009, and I do think that in a sense, he has one hand tied behind his back. Time is always against a Lions squad, but I don't see why the leagues couldn't have taken a couple of weeks out of their seasons by scheduling a round of midweek fixtures here and there. If I'm disappointed with anything, it's the short-sightedness."

Like most coaches of his calibre, McGeechan's pessimistic side is always balanced by something a little more optimistic. He believes the Lions stand a chance of beating the Wallabies and re-establishing themselves as a winning sporting brand after contrastingly painful defeats in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa over the last dozen years. "Some people think there is a lack of experience in some positions, but I believe there are some very good people around – people with the right Lions mentality, who will be in good physical shape," he argued.

However, he also thinks the Wallabies will go into the first Test in Brisbane on 22 June with a strong hand of cards. "The balance of the preparation will be tipped towards Australia," he predicted. "We can forget what Robbie Deans [the Wallaby coach] is saying to the contrary: it's smoke and mirrors. It will be much easier for his side going into the series because unlike the Lions, who will effectively be a new side, they will not need to go through a learning process. They have been involved in the Test environment as a group. The Lions haven't."

According to McGeechan, one serious bonus for Gatland is the sudden re-emergence of the Ireland lock Paul O'Connell as a tight forward for all the ages. O'Connell led the Lions in Springbok country last time out, but was generally assumed to be out of the running for this summer's trek because of long-term injury. The man from Munster put that notion to bed when he turned in a performance of star quality in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Harlequins earlier this month, and is now a captaincy contender.

"He's back in the mix and I see that as significant," said McGeechan, who, like Gatland, has a strong preference for forwards in the major leadership roles. "Having a forward as captain helps you make a statement ahead of a Test series: you have to be exceptional, in the way Brian O'Driscoll is exceptional, to drive a team from a position further out. Paul's performance against Quins was unbelievable and when you have a second-row forward with his kind of experience showing such a desire to make it happen, it can only be good news. It's easy to take a single game out of context, but when you know someone is comfortable in a Lions environment, as Paul is, the only other thing you need to know is whether he's fit and in form."

Sir Ian McGeechan was talking on behalf of Land Rover. For your chance to Lead the Lions in Australia, visit: www.landrover.co.uk/rugbyprizedraw

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album