Only two events in rugby command such vast levels of interest that the build-up starts more than six months early: the World Cup, which grows bigger by the tournament, and a tour by the British and Irish Lions, which sends the game into a frenzy. The Lions have genuine pulling power, and provided they make a better job of next summer's visit to South Africa than they made of their trips to Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005, they will continue to captivate the union public around the globe.
I was interested to see the confirmation of the coaches for the tour, because there are some heavy hitters there: Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards are all big personalities with big ideas and big voices. I wouldn't say I know them particularly well, but it seems to me that Ian, the main man, has been pretty smart with his selection.
The common denominators are Wasps – where the three coaches plus the backs specialist Rob Howley, have strong associations – and Wales, where Warren, Shaun and Rob are currently working together. It's a clever approach. Wasps' style of rugby is pretty much Wales' style, with distinctive patterns in both attack and defence. How will players from other clubs and countries react when they're asked to adapt to this style? One of the coaches' key jobs will be to get the right input from the thinkers in their squad – the Borthwicks, the O'Connells, the O'Driscolls.
Looking at the shape of the coaching team, I'd say Ian will play the kind of role associated with an England football manager, and that Warren will run the nitty-gritty side of things on the training field. There are two crucial elements here: people must have a very clear understanding of who's doing what, and they must get on well enough to sit down over a beer and talk through any issues before they become problems.
Solidarity will be key. The Boks are not the reigning world champions for nothing, and after the disappointments of the last two tours, another bad series could be very deflating. The 2005 trip to New Zealand was a big disappointment. The Lions' performances in the Tests were indifferent. It seemed there was no core to them, no spirit, nothing constructive.
Maybe part of their problem related to what had happened in Australia in 2001. I was coaching the ACT Brumbies and working with Rod Macqueen, the Wallabies coach, on the periphery of the team. That Wallaby side was in decline; we all knew it, and felt threatened by the Lions, who had a really powerful squad. It was important for us to get amongst them somehow, to undermine them and dent their confidence.
How did we do it? Partly through a well orchestrated media campaign designed to highlight areas of Lions strength and get the various referees looking more closely at what they were doing in those areas. The Lions weren't as prepared for it as they should have been and reacted badly. It scarred them emotionally, and they ended up with a fractured squad.
When my Brumbies side played them, Test calls forced me to field what amounted to a second team. Yet the Lions needed an injury-time try from Austin Healey and a conversion from Matt Dawson to beat us. Those two blokes had been in the thick of some controversy during the tour, and they celebrated as though they were part of a team within a team. It showed me how fragmented the Lions had become. Had they been better managed and a tighter squad, they might well have won the series.
In New Zealand four years later, the management went to the other extreme by trying to control the media side of things. They spent too much energy on it, and other areas of the operation suffered. It was a graphic illustration of just how difficult it is to get the balance right when the eyes of the world are on you.
Eddie Jones is the Saracens director of rugby. You can see his team in action against Northampton at Vicarage Road tomorrow, kick-off 3pm.Reuse content