LIONS coach Ian McGeechan believes the progress made by several promising Test stars will be key to the tourists’ success in South Africa.
England duo James Haskell and Danny Cipriani, Wales back Jamie Roberts and Ireland flyer Rob Kearney have all enjoyed breakthrough seasons for their country.
While McGeechan believes seasoned campaigners will have a crucial role to play against the Springboks, he is also hoping to strike an exciting balance.
“I’m confident we can put a good team together. The next six to eight months are important for the players,” he said. “Some players have been very impressive during their first Test season. It’s important that a few of them will be in their second international season by the next Lions tour.
“In 2005 when the Lions went to New Zealand there were a number of players who were coming off their best performances. It will be interesting to see how these players get on this season. It’s important to have players coming to a peak. South Africa appear to be doing that and have a balance to their team.
“From the Lions’ perspective you want experienced players at the top of their game and some younger who are progressing fast.
“If we get that we’ll have a very good combination.”
All matches on the tour will be played under the Experimental Law Variations, which are be implemented globally from August 1.
McGeechan welcomes the fact he will have a season coaching the ELVs as Wasps’ director of rugby.
“We’ve got to play with the ELVs so we just have to make sure we uncover all the nuances that go with them,” he said. It’s critical that I’ll be coaching under the new rules on a week to week basis with Wasps. I need to be looking at them to work out the best ways to use them tactically.
“Ultimately it’s the professional game that will find them out or verify them. That hasn’t happened yet. There are still a lot of question marks that will be sorted out when both hemispheres play under the same rules.”
McGeechan denied South Africa will have an advantage after most of their players completed the current Super 14 season using the ELVs.
“The significant changes to the maul and line-out we’ll all have been playing under for the same time,” he said.
“To me those are the critical ones. Thankfully the free kick one won’t be in force because that stops the referees from refereeing.
“It leads to a free-for-all and not a lot of tactical rugby.”
Meanwhile the Heineken Cup Pool Draws will take place in Dublin this morning. For the purposes of the draw, the 24 qualified teams are ranked based on their ERC European Rankings and are divided into four Tiers of six teams. Rankings are based on European performance over the past four seasons in the Heineken Cup and knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup. Each Pool will have one team from each of the four Tier levels while no two teams from the same country will be drawn in the same Pool, except for the seventh club from France (based on European Ranking) which will be drawn into a Pool with another French team.
The winner of the previous season’s Heineken Cup (2008 Munster) will be seeded Number 1 in the first Tier and will be drawn into a Pool first.
Tier 1: Munster, Toulouse, Biarritz Olympique, Leicester Tigers, Stade Français Paris, London Wasps
Tier 2: Leinster, Bath Rugby, Gloucester Rugby, Perpignan, Sale Sharks, Llanelli Scarlets
Tier 3: Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Newport Gwent Dragons, Ulster Rugby, Castres Olympique
Tier 4*: Glasgow Warriors, Benetton Treviso, Edinburgh, Rugby Calvisano, Harlequins.
* The last French Tier 4 team will be confirmed this weekend and will be either Montauban or Montpellier.
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