Lions happiness essential for success says McGeechan

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The Independent Online

The British and Irish Lions have developed into rugby's hottest franchise but Ian McGeechan, who has been at the heart of that growth for 35 years, says the core values of touring still apply.

Four years ago, McGeechan travelled to New Zealand as coach to the midweek team as Clive Woodward's bloated squad of 45 players were blown away 3-0 in the test series.

That came after Graham Henry virtually outlawed the "F-word" on a fun-free tour of Australia that also ended in defeat.

Consequently, coach McGeechan and manager Gerald Davies have made it their priority to ensure the squad, a manageable 36, enjoy what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience in South Africa next month.

McGeechan is adamant that bonding off the field improves the team's chances on it - and with this year's tour of South Africa the shortest undertaken, there is no time to waste.

"Sharing rooms, training together with the same coaches, travelling together - those points are important," McGeechan said on Monday as the squad met up for the first time.

"With so little time we want to try to accelerate that understanding, where you get to know somebody as a room mate as well as a team mate."

The squad head for the south coast on Thursday for a day's sailing and will end the week with a "beer and a barbeque".

"Sometimes that's the best way to get to know somebody, in a less structured environment," said the Scot.

"Ninety percent of the tour is off the field and that has a significant impact. They have to enjoy the whole experience and the social side is important."

However, anyone thinking that means McGeechan would be happy with a boozy 3-0 series defeat at the hands of the world champions would be misunderstanding him completely.

His philosophy is based on unrivalled first-hand experience as a player, coach and assistant and he is convinced strong friendships help establish the elusive but essential concept of players 'gelling'.

"We have to find our own game and be comfortable in what we are trying to do," he said. "We can't get over-complicated, we haven't got time, and there certainly won't be flip-charts in the bedrooms.

"The next four weeks up to the first test, we have to be clear and focused on how we want to play as a team and what we want to do but also look at different combinations," added the 62-year-old who coached the Lions to series wins in Australia and South Africa.

"Things have changed in the game under professionalism but these are still a group of young men who want to achieve in a Lions jersey and that hasn't changed over the decades."

McGeechan last week parted company with Wasps, where he was director of rugby, but seems to have barely noticed as, once again, he pours his considerable energies into the Lions.

"The body might be a bit more ragged but inside I don't feel any different. It's a privilege and something unique and to be involved in. It is still a fantastic experience and still just as exciting."