In the aftermath or a pride-restoring 28-9 victory in the third Test on Saturday, Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has summed up his thoughts on the tour and the future for the British & Irish Lions.
ON THE TOUR PARTY:
“I think this has been the best co-ordinated tour in terms of the medical, management, conditioning and coaching staff.
“What we have tried to do is make sure under that intense environment that you do have to see it as Test environment from day one and that those players are managed from day one.”
ON THE FEELING AFTER THE TEST WIN:
“I was very proud of Saturday – this group of players are as tight a unit as I have ever worked with under pressure.
“I think last Saturday’s defeat was the lowest I have ever felt, but we took those two or three days and the players came back well and trained Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and they were superb – absolutely excellent.
“The players have been outstanding and were very ready for a Test match and I’m really proud of the way we’ve finished it and we can carry a winning Lions jersey for the next four years.”
ON THE STANDARD OF RUGBY IN THE TESTS:
“It exceeded my expectations – we knew that South Africa were in good shape, they are a powerful team and at the top of the tree at the moment but we also knew that there were certain ways we would have to play to try and put them under pressure.
“They do have strengths in most areas, so really to pull the game we’ve put together and to keep that going for three Test matches with a change of personnel leaves me really very proud of that achievement from everybody.”
ON ANYTHING HE WOULD CHANGE:
“To have an extra week’s preparation – it was a little bit tight and there was a bit of persuasion involved to have the full set of players for that week but we got round that.
“The only two major things on the IRB calendar are the Lions tours and the World Cup so you would hope that there is enough planning that goes into that.
“People need to understand just how big a Lions tour is to a player. That hasn’t changed and if anything it’s got better and bigger.
“I hope that the people who are associated with the players on a long term basis understand that there should be a very careful look at how you prepare for a Lions tour.”
ON THE APPRECIATION OF THE LIONS ENTITY:
“I think you have different people running different elements of the game and I think you want to have that co-ordinated because the Lions are an integral part of the professional game – just because the Lions have been around doesn’t mean they are out of date or out of touch.
“Speak to any of the players there is nothing bigger than this – nothing bigger – and that includes World Cups in the player’s eyes.
“That has to be taken into account by the people who run the game – particularly the home unions and the clubs and they have to understand that there should be an integrated and co-ordinated process in a Lions season.
“I would hope that after this tour there is a lot of empathy and even in a professional business sense if you can take 40,000 people 6,000 miles to watch a rugby team then that is not a bad business model.
“I think John Feehan has done a good job and there is a Lions Board now and I think it is getting stronger and stronger and you hope that all the time you are adding the rugby expertise into the mix but that support has been excellent on this tour.”
ON TAKING THE LIONS LEGACY FORWARD:
“There will be some players on this tour, coaches and management who will be there for Australia in four years’ time and that is what I think is where a legacy is born and I think that they should be helping drive that forward.
“I said before this tour that we have to set the standard, we have to set the environment about what these players are coming to and the way we operate as coaches and management gives them the environment and then they take it over.
“Now it is totally the player’s environment and that’s the way it should be.
“This is no doubt the best group and best organised we’ve been and I’m thankful that I got the chance to plan over a year and come out three times.”
ON SUCCESSION AND THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM:
“I think there are some younger management in all areas and there is succession there – medical, conditioning, analysts and the people on this tour have been superb.
“It’s the same with the coaches – Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley, Shaun Edwards and whether ‘Gats’ (Warren Gatland) will still be in Wales in four years – but these guys have made a fantastic group and everyone has bought something to the table and you should be looking at being able to do that.
“I think the hardest thing is for the head coach to dedicate their time to the planning but I will be making some recommendations on that.”
ON TEAM SELECTION THROUGH THE TOUR:
“We said to the players we would pick on form and we did and we thought we’d got the right combinations and we weren’t far off.
“Yes, there were some things in the scrum that the referee picked up on unfortunately it made it difficult in that first first half but they were redressed and it was just about analysing, tweaking and I felt we had a good balance.”
ON THE ATTENDANCE ISSUES:
“I wish the ticket prices would have been different because I think the Lions tour takes rugby to the communities.
“That was why we travelled together around as one party and logistically that was very tough.
“But if you are going to do that then you want the stadiums to have a good turn-out and the disappointment for me is not seeing a full house in those provincial games.”