McGeechan named as Lions coach

Ian McGeechan will lead the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, it was confirmed this morning.

Ian McGeechan will lead the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, it was confirmed this morning.

Wasps director of rugby McGeechan was unveiled as the head coach at a press conference in London.

The 61-year-old Scot masterminded a famous series victory over the Springboks in 1997 and this will be his fourth Lions tour as head coach.

McGeechan has enjoyed a long and successful association with the Lions and has been involved in six previous tours.

In 1974 and 1977 as a player, in 2005 an assistant coach and in 1987, 1993 and 1997 as head coach.

He was the outstanding candidate to lead the 2009 party, despite not being involved in the RBS 6 Nations.

England, Ireland and Scotland were poor in the championship while Wales were anxious to ensure Warren Gatland, their highly-rated coach, would not be in overall charge.

South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach Jake White had expressed an interest in the job but the momentum behind McGeechan’s appointment soon took over.

Lions chairman Andy Irvine said: “A Lions tour is very special – even in the modern game they’re as popular as ever.

“Some years ago there was doubt they would even continue but I’m delighted to say they’re as popular as ever.

“Many players have said playing for the Lions is the highlight of their career. And we expect 50,000 fans to travel South Africa.

“The 2005 tour was very disappointing as we lost the Test series 3-0 so it’s vital we have the best leadership for to achieve success in South Africa.

“Once Gerald Davies was appointed tour manager all our attentions focused on who would be the best coach. From day one McGeechan was in our thoughts.

“We wanted someone with a special bond with the Lions. We looked elsewhere as well but time and again we kept going back to Ian.

“He’s the most successful coach in Lions history.”

McGeechan said: "I'm delighted to be here. It's an honour and privilege to get the opportunity to coach the Lions again.

“The Lions have always been so important to me. The Lions are special and unique. You can’t compare them to anything else you do as a player or coach.

“Because they’re so unique the preparation has to be unique. Ten games in eight weeks is a unique challenge.

“I believe you need a very tight squad. All preparations for 2009 will be about one group working very closely together.

“The fact it’s against the world champions Springboks also makes it a massive challenge.

“I’m looking forward to working with Gerald Davies, the team manager. This will be a partnership.

“My responsibility will be the rugby and that will be my sole focus.

“The tradition of the Lions is important to making sure the Lions have a fighting chance of succeeding in South Africa.

“I will continue coaching at Wasps as it’s important I’m hands-on there. The arrangement does allow me to be flexible and the club are happy with that.”

McGeechan was unbeaten as coach of the midweek team on the ill-fated tour to New Zealand in 2005, which ended in a desperate Test series whitewash.

The former schoolteacher joined Wasps in 2005 and landed the Powergen Anglo Welsh Cup title during his first season in charge.

A year later he guided Wasps to Heineken Cup glory with a compelling victory over Leicester at Twickenham.

He won 32 caps – nine as captain – playing at fly-half and centre and made eight Test appearances for the Lions.

Gatland and Wasps coach Shaun Edwards are favourites to join the Lions' coaching team and McGeechan revealed he will be assembling his back room staff as soon as possible.

He said: “Gerald and I will spend some time together and talk things through.

“I hope that over the next two months the management structure will be in place. From now we’ll be working very hard in that respect.”

The Lions have 10 matches scheduled in South Africa, including Tests against the Springboks in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg between June 20 and July 4.

Other fixtures include appointments with the Emerging Springboks, Western Province and the Sharks and the tour opens on May 30 against a Highveld XV in Rustenburg.

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