Jonathan Davies: Edwards can add lustre to McGeechan's squad, but leave Gatland alone

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Everyone is delighted with Ian McGeechan's appointment as head coach of the Lions tour to South Africa next year, but there's one potential glitch to be overcome before he gets to gripswith restoring the unique and traditional spirit to the Lions.

He will be choosing his coaching team over the next couple of months and the speculation is already high that the Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, and his assistant, Shaun Edwards, will be lining up alongside Geech in South Africa.

What a formidable trio they would make. They've already shared a close and successful period together at Wasps, and from day one they would bring a wealth of experience and knowhow to the task.

But I fear the consequences if the Welsh Rugby Union let Gatland go on the tour in an official capacity. Memories of what happened when Graham Henry, then the Wales head coach, led the Lions to New Zealand in 2001 are still fresh enough to warn against letting Gatland go.

Many things went wrong for Henry, not all of them his fault, but the worst was the massive fall-out he had with the Welsh players on the tour. It was never the same for him.

Gatland has said that he hasn't been approached by the Lions, but there's no doubt his name is high on their wish list.

Rumours abound in Wales that the WRU, who had already nominated the Cardiff Blues' Dai Young as a candidate for forwards coach, would be reluctant to stand in Gatland's way if the Lions wanted him.

I don't know what's in Gatland's contract, but the interests of Wales must be his priority. As valuable as he would be to the Lions, he shouldn't take the slightest risk of anything interfering with his excellent relationship and rapport with his players. Besides, his presence is likely to mean that Dai Young wouldn't get called up, and that would be very sad.

There could be no objection to Edwards going. He already has two hats with his Wasps and Wales connections, so a third wouldn't hurt.

Gatland would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that his sterling work with Wales has already laid a foundation that the Lions will benefit from. He has set the standard higher for all the four home nations to aspire to next season – and that will be particularly meaningful when it comes to Martin Johnson's England.

What Gatland has done, and what Johnson is doing, is to add authority, discipline and the right attitude. Both the Wales and England squads will need plenty of those qualities in their summer tours to South Africa and New Zealand respectively.

One of McGeechan's many abilities is the way that he improves the contribution of even the best players. There's no doubt that players will grow when they pull on a Lions shirt under his leadership.

Even at this distance, the Lions contenders are very strong, with a superb blend of youngsters and more experienced players. The likes of Danny Cipriani, James Hook, Gavin Henson and Shane Geraghty will be a season older and wiser, but they will have to prove themselves, and there will be others competing with them.

One thing that they can rely upon is that McGeechan will select players on form and not on reputation – unlike the last Lions tour, to New Zealand, which was pretty disastrous from all aspects.

McGeechan will return to the traditional method of using one set of coaches and a smaller, tightly knit and unified squad, and the prospect is already an exciting one.