Ian McGeechan has unveiled the selection blueprint he hopes will help the Lions to a Test series victory against South Africa next summer.
The head coach will name a provisional touring party of around 60 players in January and plans to hold a squad meeting soon after to begin preparations for the trip.
McGeechan will then spend the remainder of the season virtually halving the squad to roughly 35 names, though there will still be an opportunity for players outside the original 60 to force their way into his plans.
Speaking at the official launch of the Heineken Cup at Murrayfield yesterday, the Wasps director of rugby said: “If someone’s outstanding in the Six Nations and they’re not part of that 60, we’ll be flexible. It’s just an indication of the sort of players we feel are in form at that point.”
McGeechan wants access to his likely players well in advance of the tour because of the quick turnaround from the end of the domestic season to the Lions‘ departure.
“When you’ve got a preparation week before we go away which includes the Heineken Cup final then we’ve got to make the most of the time,” said the Scot, who masterminded the famous 1997 series win in South Africa.
“What I’m trying to do is be as time effective as I can with the players that are likely to be involved.”
McGeechan, who also confirmed he would not be organising a warm-up match similar to that played against Argentina three years ago, explained how he will monitor performances closely in both the Heineken Cup and autumn internationals in making his decision on the 60-man pool.
He also insisted he will give players until the last possible moment to prove their form and fitness before announcing his final squad.
“What I’m not doing is selecting a Lions squad straight after the Six Nations because I think there’ll be six or seven players that we’ll probably want to see more of post-Six Nations,” he said.
“It’s relatively easy to pick 25. It’s the last 10 that often make the difference on a Lions tour. I think it’s important to give ourselves time to really look at those final selections and those key players.”
However, McGeechan warned all aspiring Lions they risk omission if they fail to maintain a high standard throughout the season.
“If you are aspiring to be a Lion then you know you don’t accept poor performances,” he said. “It’s that consistency on a Lions tour that, ultimately, if you’re going to do anything, will make the difference.”
McGeechan will also refuse to entertain any notion of a quota system to ensure all the home nations are represented in the squad.
“Getting the best group together, character-wise as well as talent-wise, is the thing,” he said. “It’s going to be, with all the background knowledge, the best group of players we think can come together and be successful.”
Nevertheless, McGeechan knows even the best-prepared Lions squads face an uphill battle even to compete during a Test series.
“It’s always been impossible!” he joked. “That’s why the Lions have only won four series in 130 years.
“The only thing that happened in the past was you’re on tour for four months so you’ve got eight weeks to prepare for the first Test. That’s just out of the window now.”