McGeechan looks for positives
December 12, 2008
Lions head coach Ian McGeechan, flanked by Tour Manager Gerald Davies, speaks to the media yesterday © Getty Images
Lions coach Ian McGeechan is convinced some positives will come from the northern hemisphere's failure to beat South Africa during their recent tour of the UK.
The Springboks recorded victories over Scotland, Wales and England on an undefeated tour to sound out a warning to the elite tourists who travel to South Africa for a three-Test series next summer. But McGeechan is convinced that lessons can be learnt from those defeats and others suffered at the hands of southern hemisphere opposition last month that will benefit his side in the long run.
"The November series showed how good a team South Africa are. They can play more than one way, they have a good pack, back row, outside backs. It showed this is a major challenge," he said.
McGeechan admitted the home nations' record was a concern but he insisted there were positives to reflect on. "Not seeing the wins was the most concerning thing but new players came to the fore that we may not have been talking about as strong Lions candidates. That was encouraging and exciting," said McGeechan.
The London Wasps boss refused to be too critical of the Home Unions despite the fact that they only recorded one victory in 12 clashes with the Tri-Nations giants - Wales' 21-18 victory over Australia at the Millenium Stadium.
"The autumn was the first chance for players to step up into the Test arena and there were a lot of them doing it for the first time," said McGeechan. "You saw some players move forward and others learning big lessons. Next we have the Heineken Cup and then the Six Nations. What we will see are a lot of players who will have grown up very quickly with what they have experienced through November.
"Some of the players will start the Six Nations in a different frame of mind. Test match decisions and Test match pressure is different to anything else you do. For the Lions, that will be important."
McGeechan admitted Wales had impressed but he refused to be drawn on the likely make-up of his tour partya full six months from their departure.
"There were a lot of Welsh players who have put their names forward this autumn," he said. "I watched Wales against South Africa but they also kept getting better the more the autumn went on. The fact Wales beat one of the southern hemisphere countries, Australia, is quite important.
"But what you want is players playing well going into a Lions tour, rather than having to find form. That will always mean teams doing well in the Six Nations will be reflected in the Lions squad."
The Lions intend to name a 60-65 man squad at the end of January with the main aim of getting a headstart on the logistics surrounding the tour but McGeechan was keen to stress that selection will not be limited to that group when the final squad is announced in April.
"It doesn't mean if players aren't in that 65 they won't be in the final group of 35 players. It is not a closed door for any player," said McGeechan. "We have talked about certain players and those who have impressed, but it is early days."
However, McGeechan did sound out a warning that he will not consider those players not match-hardened by the time the squad leaves at the end of May leaving a question mark over the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Rory Lamont who are both sidelined with long-term injuries.
"Players need to be match-hardened and fit because we want to give everybody an opportunity to put themselves forward for a Test place but they only have two, maybe three games to do that. It is a difficult place to find form or be there not fully fit."
McGeechan also plans to get his squad together during one of the fallow weeks during the Six Nations Championship and manager Gerald Davis confirmed the Home Unions had thrown their support behind that plan.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup