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Give Lions more time - McGeechan

The Lions players are devastated as the final whistle blows at the end of the second Test

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Johannesburg

Ian McGeechan has launched a plea for the British and Irish Lions to be given the time to prepare properly for future tours so they remain competitive.

The Lions head coach thinks the current trip to South Africa has resulted in "some of the best rugby ever", despite his side's series defeat.

But he believes officials from the home unions and domestic competitions must adjust the season for future tours.

McGeechan would like to see the Lions given the same priority as a World Cup.

"If they give the Lions a fair crack, the Test series will always be very meaningful," he said after moulding a side from scratch in the space of five weeks.

"I just wish more of these people who don't want to make time for the Lions would actually come out and experience a tour. I don't think they understand the impact.


"For the players they represent, they should make it work. If you speak to any player in Britain and Ireland, this is where they want to be and the jersey they want to wear.

"Somehow, going forward, they have got to make that easier to happen and if you do that you will probably make the preparation easier to win a Test series.

"That is to everybody's advantage, whether it is Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. The two biggest things in the international calendar are the World Cup and Lions tours. If we could respect that, the preparation would help the next coach."

While England's Guinness Premiership final was brought forward by a fortnight this year to avoid a clash with the Lions' opening tour match, the Heineken Cup final took place on 23 May, a day before their departure to South Africa.

Tour manager Gerald Davies believes there is "worldwide interest" in the Lions, revealing that other countries outside the traditional three southern hemisphere giants have also expressed an interest in hosting tours.

But there are concerns about the long-term future of the 'brand' if a sequence that has now resulted in them losing seven Tests - and three series - in a row continues.

Unlucky Lions made crucial mistakes - O'Connell

After the one-sided 'blackwash' in New Zealand four years ago, the 2009 Lions have taken the world champions to the limit in both the first two Tests, only losing to a penalty with the final kick of the game in Pretoria on Saturday.

"I think a lot of credibility has been brought back to the Lions on this tour," insisted McGeechan.

"We have just watched one of the best Tests the Lions have ever played in my book, and one I am very proud to be associated with.

"We have had two cracking Tests and when people ask what the Lions are about, well you just don't get Tests like that anywhere else.

"The rugby we have played has been outstanding and a great advert for the players in the northern hemisphere. I think we have seen some of the best rugby ever. To me, and in other people's eyes, the Lions have actually just got bigger."

McGeechan, a four-time Lions head coach, has a record of having won at least one Test in each of his previous stints in charge, (winning 2-1 in Australia in 1989 and South Africa in 1997, and losing 2-1 in New Zealand in 1993) - but that will be under threat at Johannesburg's Ellis Park on Saturday.

The players genuinely deserve to be in the position to play for a series next week and we are not, that is very disappointing

Ian McGeechan

At 62, it is likely to be his 20th and final Lions Test as a player or coach - excluding the three in New Zealand four years ago, when he assisted with the midweek team.

His planning for the series finale has been hit by a horrendous injury list after a second Test that fly-half Stephen Jones, who scored 20 points in the 28-25 defeat, described as "without doubt the most physical game I have ever played in".

There will be a minimum of two changes, with Welsh props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones already ruled out and probably at least four, with centres Brian O'Driscoll (concussion) and Jamie Roberts (sprained wrist) both major doubts.

Andrew Sheridan, who impressed as a replacement on Saturday, is set to start at loose-head prop, with either Phil Vickery or John Hayes at tight-head.

Riki Flutey, Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls will all come into the midfield shake-up if O'Driscoll and Roberts are unfit but wing Tommy Bowe (strained elbow) and fly-half Ronan O'Gara (eye cut) are expected to be available for selection.

As they digested the disappointment of a shattering loss, the Lions squad headed off on safari to Entabeni Game Reserve, north of Johannesburg, on Sunday for a break before resuming rugby activity on Tuesday.

"I think the players genuinely deserve to be in the position to play for a series next week and we are not," added McGeechan. "That is very disappointing.

"In the end it is only the rub of the green that hasn't given us one or two results but I am hugely proud of what we have achieved and we will have the same approach going into the third Test."

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see also
SA's Burger handed eight-week ban
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Jenkins condemns Lions selectors
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McGeechan saddened by Lions loss
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Battered Lions lose injured props
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Burger 'gouge' angers Fitzgerald
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Phillips 'disgusted' over Burger
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South Africa 28-25 Lions
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South Africa v Lions photos
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SA v Lions 2nd Test as it happened
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South Africa 26-21 Lions
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Lions squad selector
07 May 09 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union

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