South Africa 2009: McGeechan will be new Lions coach

The man who put the sting back into Wasps has been chosen to lead a journey into the unknown. By Tim Glover
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The Independent Online

Ian McGeechan is timing his run as beautifully as the Wasps. The Scotsman, and the club he coaches, are focused on winning the Guinness Premiership following a great run of form. From today, when they host Gloucester, Wasps will play an unprecedented three matches in seven days, after which they will be ripe for the play-offs – and McGeechan will receive the notable bonus of being named coach for the Lions tour to South Africa.

As the most successful coach in Lions history, McGeechan is not so much the front-runner as the man carrying the torch. His role is made even more interesting than usual by the fact that the Lions will conduct a 10-match, three-Test tour under the experimental law variations or, at least, 13 of them. The boffins are looking again at the other 10.

The International Rugby Board decided at their Dublin summit last week to introduce the ELVs at all levels in a 12-month trial from 1 August but McGeechan described the innovations as "illogical and short-sighted". He foresees the end of the lineout, which can be contested by only two players, and the end of the maul, which can be pulled down.

The Lions hierarchy are quite happy with the experiments that have been passed. "They will be enacted globally so every country and every club will be in the same position," a spokesman said. "We'll have a lot more information by next season but what we were fearful of was that an infusion of free-kicks would endanger the game and make it resemble some other sport." Free-kicks would have been awarded for the vast majority of offences, the idea being to speed things up, but further field trials will be conducted on a more minor scale.

McGeechan and his Wasps squad are looking closer to home. After Adams Park today they will travel to Newcastle on Wednesday (they were there a few weeks ago but high winds caused a cancellation) and Leeds on Saturday. They have won eight Premiership matches in a row – their last defeat was to Gloucester in January – and have gone from nowhere to third. It is McGeechan's speciality: mugging the mugs who finish top at the end of the regular 22-match season.

Wasps don't have a large squad but they are a very powerful one. As Lawrence Dallaglio, preparing for his farewell to the game, said: "After the Six Nations I looked around the dressing room and I couldn't see a weakness."

Danny Cipriani has been hogging the headlines with his exploits but his scrum-half partner, Eoin Reddan, has been just as influential. "We've gelled together very well," said Reddan, who joined Wasps from Munster three seasons ago. "It's very enjoyable and refreshing to be playing with such a young fly-half. I think it's great for the two of us and we've got quite a few years left in the partnership. Some half-backs have a turbulent relationship but first and foremost Danny and I are friends and we respect each other. There is good banter but we've become a bit more clinical at certain things, like managing a game."

Like Cipriani, Reddan, by seven years the senior partner at 27, has had a memorable season, not entirely for the right reasons. He went to the World Cup in France as Ireland's third choice and ended up starting against France and Argentina in what was to be an ill-fated campaign. He made his full Six Nations debut this year and in future will find himself playing under Declan Kidney instead of Eddie O'Sullivan.

He has not won anything with Ireland but under McGeechan it's a different story. "There's a fear factor here at the thought of not winning something," he said. "We enjoy this time of the season when the pressure comes on. When we were ninth in the league we were involved in other competitions and our position misled people. Still, we won't know whether we've been successful until the end of the Premiership final at 5.30 on 31 May. I think we can survive the week ahead. We've got the best fitness staff in the business."

And they've got McGeechan, who has got Shaun Edwards, who will not be with Wales at a training camp in Wexford this week but with Wasps. "The thing about Geech," Reddan said, "is that he is a very balanced coach. He's not instinctive but he doesn't get carried away. He doesn't lecture you. We're very united and it's all about aggression and hard work. He has a fine relationship with the players here but he would anywhere. He's always looking at the bigger picture."

The Lions in South Africa are on the horizon... so are the Wasps.