South Africa tour: My Lions will be a different animal

Geech and Gerald are the dream ticket and aim to restore the feelgood factor after the 2005 fiasco

Sir Clive Woodward did it his way for the 2005 tour to New Zealand – an unlimited budget and a huge cast – and the whitewash at the hands of the All Blacks was so painful there were fears the Lions could be an endangered species. In a conscious effort to distance themselves from that fiasco, the 2009 model for the South Africa tour will be a very different animal.

For a start there is the dream ticket of Gerald Davies as manager and Ian McGeechan as head coach, and it is nigh-on impossible to meet two more popular personalities in the game. One was a brilliant Lions wing, the other a centre, and to listen to them waxing lyrical at a press conference in London they sounded like brothers in arms.

"To have Ian wearing the tracksuit is a huge privilege for us," Davies said. "There will be one jersey, one philosophy, one style. It will be something to cherish and for the players to treasure. We intend to live up to the tradition. A Lions tour is the last great rugby adventure."

There was plenty more where that came from.

McGeechan was involved in the only successful element of the ill-fated tour to New Zealand three years ago – he coached the unbeaten midweek side – but this time there will be fundamental differences. The Lions are returning to basics.

Woodward's bloated squad ended up exceeding 50. This one will be condensed to about 35, and the practice of room sharing will be restored. There will be no spin doctor – Alastair Campbell was the 2005 press officer – and there will be no "them and us" whereby the first team and the rest were so segregated they may as well have been operating on different planets. And there will not be a host of coaches. McGeechan will have no more than three or four assistants.

"It will be a very tightly-knit group," Davies said, "and every player will be challenging for a Test place. There's no point entering a competition if you can't be the best. You can't have players cast aside. If you take hope away why would they want to be on the tour in the first place?

"If you're playing a game of cards, Monopoly or snakes and ladders you want to win. But I don't think that in order to be a winner you need to be a miserable person. We want this to be an enjoyable tour. Geech is still the best and he sets the benchmark. A couple of coaches didn'tfulfil their promise and others pulled out of the reckoning."

A refreshing philosophy has been established, but results will determine whether the adventure is enjoyable and successful. There are three Tests in a 10-match tour, and McGeechan compared the challenge to playing three World Cup finals against the world champions.

"There is no other feeling like rubbing shoulders in a Lions jersey," the Scotsman said. "We will have four countries playing as one, and our aim is to put a marker down in South Africa. If I had not been coaching full-time at Wasps I wouldn't have considered taking this on, but when I had another scent of Lions rugby three years ago I realised how important it is to me and the players. I wake up in the morning and think, 'Crikey, I'm doing this for a job'. I still pinch myself. This is special, unique, and you can't compare it with anything else."

Comparisons were made between McGeechan and the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. The connection came from the former Lions and Scotland full-back Andy Irvine, who is chairman of the Lions board. "Ian has been on six previous tours, two as a player,three as head coach and one as assistant coach," Irvine said. "His record, the most successful in Lions' history, speaks for itself. We looked at other coaches but time and again we came back to Ian. At 62 he's still as fit as a flea, but the question was whether the hunger was still there. The answer is he's as enthusiastic as ever, which is why he reminds me of Sir Alex. If you conducted a straw poll among players of who would be their dream coach, Geech would get the majority of the vote. He's been at the top for 20 years. He was on the last tour of New Zealand and he knows how things can be improved."

This was a veiled attack on the 2005 expedition. "I was surprised at the number of people involved," Irvine said. "There is an element of unfinished business for the Lions. A few years ago there was some doubt as to whether we would continue, but we're as popular as ever. We could take 50,000 supporters to South Africa. We have to make up for what happened in New Zealand. This time we have the best coach available and there will be greater unity. The leadership of Gerald and Geech will make it an even more interesting and happy tour."

McGeechan will pick the brains of the former Lions Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill. Johnson was his captain when they won the Test series in South Africa in 1997. "Johnno's appointment as England team manager couldn't be better," McGeechan said. "He was the ultimate Lions captain, second to none, and this will be a huge advantage for us."

Fixture congestion at the end of next season, not to mention inevitable injuries and the Experimental Law Variations, will make life difficult for the Lions, who are due to play their first game on the high veldt the same day as the Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham. McGeechan was confident the issue would be resolved, although the elite clubs may want to see the colour ofthe Lions' money before reaching a compromise.

Very deliberately, a feelgood factor has been restored to the brand of the British and Irish Lions. "In 2005 we went out for the occasional pint," said McGeechan. "Maybe in 2009 the whole group will go out for a drink."

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?