British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan abandoned on Thursday his plan to announce a preliminary squad for the tour of South Africa later this year.
Sport 24 reports that the Scot, who coached the Lions on their successful tour of South Africa in 1995, had planned to announce a provisional group of 60-65 players next week.
However, the Wasps boss will now make do with unveiling his final squad of 30-35 players in April after the end of the Six Nations Championship.
The Lions are due to play three Tests against world champions South Africa in June and July on a tour which starts in May and features 10 games in all.
“Instead of selecting and announcing a preliminary squad this month, we have decided that we should instead work closely with each of the four Home Union (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) coaches in the lead-up and during the Six Nations to determine which players are showing the form and application that will make them suitable tourists,” McGeechan said.
“Becoming a Lion is the pinnacle of a player’s career – it is a unique experience and nothing compares to it,” the former Scotland centre, who as a player starred on the Lions victorious tour of South Africa in 1974, explained.
“We want to ensure that all players continue to see they have a chance of playing themselves into contention for the final squad that we will be announcing in April, as planned.
“Selection of the tour party is the most important element of the tour, as far as I am concerned.
“I want to ensure that we have every opportunity to make the best selection decisions and that we utilise expertise from outside the group, such as the national coaches of the home nations, to select the final group of players that will represent the British Isles in South Africa.”
Each player from the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh squads – plus any additional players outside those groups – will receive a draft Lions contract.
That contract then becomes ‘live’ if the player gains final squad selection in April.
The Lions will also have an extensive backroom staff of 20.
This will be headed up by tour manager Gerald Davies, the former Wales wing and one of the stars of the only Lions side to win a series in New Zealand, in 1971.
Looking ahead, Davies said: “The next step in terms of tour planning is a final pre-tour visit to South Africa later this month to finalise many aspects of the tour such as accommodation, internal travel and training facilities.
“As a management group, we are under no illusion of the challenges that we face when we travel to South Africa this summer.
“We will be facing the world champions on their home soil, and therefore it is crucial that we are comfortable with all aspects of the tour logistics and that we have a suitable environment in place to allow the players to perform at their maximum.”Tweet