Rugby Union: Cooke to manage the Lions

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The Independent Online
GEOFF COOKE, with a track record in charge of England that reads successive Grand Slams and an appearance in last November's World Cup final, stays ahead of the pack with the announcement yesterday of his appointment as manager of the Lions in New Zealand next summer.

Cooke will be accompanied by Scotland's Ian McGeechan, mastermind behind the Lions triumph in Australia in 1989, who will act as assistant manager and coach. In addition, Dick Best, Roger Uttley's successor as England coach for last season's Five Nations' Championship, is named assistant coach for the visit Down Under.

It was Uttley who backed up McGeechan against the Wallabies three years ago, the Lions losing the first Test but winning the last two. This time, the Lions face three Tests against the All Blacks - in Christchurch (12 June), Wellington (26 June) and Auckland (3 July) - and play 13 matches in all on the tour between 22 May and 6 July.

Yesterday, Cooke said: 'It is a great honour to be given the job and I am very pleased to have such an excellent coaching team with me. But this tour represents a formidable challenge and in terms of Lions tours it is the ultimate test.

'Now that South Africa are back in world rugby they must come into that category and of course at the moment Australia are world champions. But in New Zealand you are under pressure all the time. The provincial sides are very strong and I would think that everyone in the game would say it is the toughest country to tour.'

Clear favourites for the posts, Cooke, McGeechan and Best were among six candidates interviewed and they are aiming to get together shortly to begin forward planning. Four independent selectors - yet to be appointed - will decide which players from the home unions will be making the trip.

Meanwhile, Cooke said: 'We will all be watching this season's internationals with even more interest.' He also felt the appointment of Best was 'a reasonable reflection of the position England have reached during the last few years'.