British & Irish Lions
McGeechan determined to get Lions roaring in 2009
January 3, 2009
McGeechan (right) and tour manager Gerald Davies will take charge of the Lions on this year's tour to South Africa © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan believes 'legendary' status awaits those players chosen to tour South Africa later this year.
McGeechan, a tourist with the Lions as a player in 1974 and 1977 and as a coach in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2005, has laid down the gauntlet to this year's hopefuls declaring that they can write their names into the history books.
"In my opinion, you cannot be a legendary rugby player if you haven't been a Lion," he told The Scotsman newspaper. "You can be a very good international player and have done some good things, but when you're talking about legendary rugby players they have made their mark as Lions.
"Players appreciate that as well; they know that and respect that, and are desperate to be part of that, which is a great motivation because they're there for the right reasons. All the in-built tradition and history, the interest globally, is all part of why they want to pull on a Lions jersey."
The 62-year-old Wasps director or rugby has lost none of his enthusiasm for the Lions as he prepares for his seventh outing with the elite tourists.
"The Lions is something that, to me, hasn't lost its attraction with the game turning professional," he said. "You can go back to the 1950s, the 1930s, or whatever, and the concept is exactly the same. You don't go away for four or five months now - that's different - but it's the same principle of the four countries coming together in a great adventure and even new professionals relate to the history of the Lions, the unique nature of what is really the only remaining high-level tour of this kind for players, and I think that's fantastic.
"It is also very important because you need players to want to come on a Lions tour first and foremost because they want to be a Lion, not because they want to get some extra money; that should be irrelevant. It's a bit like the Ryder Cup. It's not quite the same, but that team ethos, historically, the desire to be part of something bigger than they could otherwise imagine.
McGeechan also recounted what a special impact the Lions has had on him and spoke of his excitement at knowing a new generation of players are set to benefit the same way.
"I was lucky because I think the Lions in many respects made me; gave me an inner strength, that was maybe there, but came out in Lions Tests, playing with guys like JPR, Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and Andy Irvine.
"Suddenly, you are on a different level. It took me to a different level and that's why I still get enjoyment; knowing some players, in that environment, will grow even beyond their own expectations. That's the reason I still enjoy it so much. It is the sense that if you get it right, it is just incomprehensible. It means so much to the players and if you build the right environment, to get it right and give them the opportunity to win, it takes them to a new level in their sporting lives.
"I see this as a huge responsibility and it will be even harder than 1997 because South Africa want revenge - they have only lost three Test series against anyone in their history so they don't like it."
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