British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan will use the first six matches on his team’s tour of South Africa to find the right combinations, which means it will be an ‘experimental’ selection that opens the tour against a Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday.
In fact, when the Lions run onto the field in Durban on June 20 for the first Test against the Springboks, it will probably be the first time their Test selection will play as a unit.
McGeechan, addressing the media after his team’s arrival in Johannesburg on Monday, was adamant that there was not a pre-selected Test team and every player in the 36-man squad would get the opportunity to stake his claim.
SAPA reports that the six matches before the first Test are against the Royal XV, the Golden Lions, Cheetahs, Sharks, Western Province and the Southern Kings.
It gives McGeechan and his assistant coaches three weeks in which to put things in place and select the Test XV they see as the most effective as unit.
“I don’t anticipate we’ll select the side before the week of the first Test,” he told a media gathering at the team’s base in Johannesburg.
“We’ll be working on various combinations in the run-up.
“There is a special uniqueness to this team [from four countries], and lots of the players have not played with one another.
“It is important for us [as management] to see how they shape up,” he said in reference to the tour matches the Lions will use to select their best side.
McGeechan, who first came to South Africa as a member of the invincible 1974 Lions side and subsequently also as a coach of the 1997 Lions – who also won the series – is very much aware of the challenge ahead.
McGeechan said the main priority was for the coaches and the players to work together in the way they want to play as a team.
And he said that the Lions would play within a structure where the players will be able to show their talent.
“We’ll encourage them to play,” he promised his players and the South African public.
This tour is McGeechan’s seventh as a Lion. He made two trips as a player, where he played in eight Tests – four in South Africa in 1974 and four in New Zealand three years later.
He then toured as head coach to Australia in 1989, New Zealand in 1993 and South Africa in 1997; and assisted Clive Woodward in New Zealand in 2005.
With this seventh tour as a Lion he surpasses the record of the great Willie John McBride who went on five Lions tours as a player and one as a manager.Tweet