Rugby Union: McGeechan to coach Lions

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Ian McGeechan has completed an unprecedented hat-trick by being appointed as coach of the British Lions tour of South Africa next summer.

McGeechan has long been acknowledged as one of the finest coaches in the northern hemisphere and yesterday's announcement by the four Home Unions committee - England are still a part of that - merely confirmed that.

The 49-year-old McGeechan, who as director of rugby at Northampton, guided the club into the Courage League First Division last season with a 100 per cent record, is himself a former British Lion. Furthermore he has tasted success in South Africa, having gone to the Republic in 1974 when Willie-John McBride captained them to a 3-0 series win - the only time in eight visits that they have done so.

Last night McGeechan said: "The southern hemisphere teams are throwing down an awesome challenge to Europe, but we have to play our game in another way and at another pace next season at club and international level to give us the fullest possible preparation for taking on the Springboks. Down there the Lions are regarded as the third force in world rugby."

McGeechan's record as coach is testament to his tactical and motivational skills. He masterminded the British Isles 1989 2-1 triumph in Australia, and the Lions - again under McGeechan - went close in New Zealand four years later. In between there was the little matter of a Scotland Grand Slam, when McGeechan plotted the downfall of England at Murrayfield in 1990. The meticulous McGeechan, who coached Scotland from 1988 to 1993, won 32 Scottish caps at centre and fly-half in addition to eight Lions' appearances.

Along with manager Fran Cotton, a Lions colleague from the Seventies, he will be allowed to have a say in the appointment of an assistant, who will be in charge of the forwards during the gruelling, 13-match tour which incorporates three Tests against South Africa in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg in late June and early July 1997.

In announcing the appointment of the former Yorkshire Schools cricketer and geography and PE teacher, the Four Home Unions committee statement emphasised that unity prevails on their front. It read: "Amid the continuing uncertainty about the future of the Five Nations Championship the tours committee of the four Home Unions...has received renewed undertakings from all four unions of their unequivocal and wholehearted support for the tour."