British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan will be present at all three of the Springboks’ UK Tests as he plans ahead of next year’s tour of South Africa.
McGeechan will also seek out the views of Wales, Scotland and England’s coaching staff to establish what their analysis of the Springboks has taught them.
McGeechan’s focus is likely to be on individuals, as the Springboks’ playing structure is expected to differ greatly in the largely dry conditions in South Africa in mid 2009, compared to what will be on show in the wet conditions expected on this tour.
Speaking about the criteria for selection, he told the Times of London he was looking for skillful players, but stressed that they had to have the same character exhibited by the likes of former Lions Jason Leonard, Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio.
“Jason was a superb Lion because getting the team right was the most important thing to him, whether he was in it or not,” McGeechan said. “The back-up he gave, the input, was total – it wasn’t about Jason, it was about the Lions.
“Martin Johnson was the same, he was a great Lion and it’s tremendous that people like him and Lawrence Dallaglio have been talking so positively about the tour.”
McGeechan said his “mind was very open” in terms of selection. “Those who played well last season need to consolidate, they need to show they can become influential members of the group,” he said.
“You have to look across all four teams. Even if some are not playing well, you can still identify individuals who could add something to the Lions were they to play with someone else.
“I’m looking at combinations, at half back, midfield, back row, and those units don’t have to come from the same country – when I first saw Will Greenwood, before the 1997 tour, I was looking at how he might play not just alongside Jerry Guscott but Gregor Townsend or Scott Gibbs.”
He also noted the massive expectation and enthusiasm surrounding the Lions tour.
“If you succeed as a Lion, it does change you, and it’s exciting to know so many of the players are already talking about this as ‘a Lions year’. When you have people like Victor Matfield and John Smit making sure they are available for South Africa next year, you know it means the same to them.”