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Matt Dawson on Sir Ian McGeechan

Knighthood still sinking in - McGeechan

Matt Dawson
By Matt Dawson
Former Northampton, Wasps, England and Lions scrum-half

For me, Sir Ian McGeechan is the ultimate Lion.

There have been many great players associated with the Lions over the years, with names like Willie John McBride, Martin Johnson, Scott Gibbs and Gareth Edwards springing to mind.

But as someone who embodies everything it is to be a Lion, there is nobody who will come close to what Geech has brought to the red jersey.

From player, to coach, to manager - not to mention assistant manager and consultant - he epitomises the Lions as a brand and as a team.

He laughed when I asked to speak to Sir Ian when I phoned to congratulate him on his knighthood, an embarrassing giggle of disbelief.

I can imagine him opening his post, just like any other person, and being completely gobsmacked to read the letter when the news came through; I can picture his wife Judy asking what's wrong and him showing her the letter; and I can almost see the sheer disbelief on their faces - but it makes perfect sense.

That's one of the reasons why everyone thinks he deserves the honour: his humility and his under-the-radar dedication to be successful on behalf of the teams he has worked for.

I'm very proud to know him and I know that, despite the knighthood, he will be exactly the same as he always has been.

I first met Geech in 1995 when he was thinking about coming to coach at Northampton - and he hasn't changed.

He was very quiet and thorough in his preparation, but always so positive and incredibly knowledgeable. And he had an ability to communicate with his players in a way which always made them perform to their best.

I was aspiring to be an international rugby player at the time and after watching me for a couple of months, he said to me: "Daws, you're a scrum-half, I don't want you to force it."

When Geech spoke, you didn't just feel like you were flicking through history books reading about JPR Williams, Willie John McBride or Gareth Edwards - you felt like you were sitting next to them

I asked him what he meant and he said: "You have two options in your rugby life - you either make a break or pass the ball. Whichever you choose to do, you do it 100%."

As simple as that sounds, he was absolutely spot on.

If I made a break followed by a mistake, I had to learn from it and try not do it again. Or if I made a pass when I should have made a break, I watched the video and next time I made the right decision.

Whatever I chose to do I did it 100% and he would always back me. He was like that with every player - as long as you weren't hesitant, he would always back you.

He has an empathy with players - not because he played at the highest level but because he has this ability to understand what the players are going through.

Jerry Guscott celebrates with McGeechan after the Lions win the 1997 series in South Africa
McGeechan led the 1997 Lions to victory in South Africa

As a coach, he has developed and changed in the 14 years I have known him, which marks the quality of the man.

He appreciates the game has moved on - the skills he had in 1995 were very different to what he took with the Lions in 2009. But he still manages to bring quality to the table.

When I first met him he was very much into wearing a tracksuit and getting stuck into the technical stuff in training.

He moved on as a coach and got into the management side, but he never left the training field altogether.

Geech has the ability to get the right people around him, perhaps guys who were a little bit closer to the modern game, and bring out his own little nuggets of wisdom when it's needed.

For everything he achieved with Northampton, Wasps and Scotland, it is the Lions where he really marked himself out as a legend.

On Lions tours there is so much tradition and history, you have to be aware of what it means to put that red jersey on.

But when Geech spoke, you didn't just feel like you were flicking through history books reading about JPR Williams, Willie John McBride or Gareth Edwards - you felt like you were sitting next to them. Geech's words brought the whole thing alive.

You weren't just a 1997 or 2009 Lion: you were a Lion. You felt two inches taller, two inches wider and two paces quicker: not only did you not want to let your own team down, but you didn't want to let the Lions "brand" down. Geech fully understood that.

Ian McGeechan and Matt Dawson during a Wasps photo call
Dawson played under McGeechan at Wasps until he retired

With the Lions, relationships are not just built on the rugby field - it is imperative to get it right off the field.

Other coaches have failed miserably and overlooked the social aspect. But Geech never did - you only need to look at the players from the 2009 tour and see how well they played.

There would be plenty of coaches who wouldn't participate with the players' court (where various fines are administered for "offences"). Geech would and could be one of the lads but he knew where the line was and never overstepped it.

I can't remember an angry word from him - he always had an angry sidekick like Jim Telfer, Warren Gatland or Shaun Edwards.

Those players who went to South Africa in 2009 will tell you that if they bumped into one of their fellow Lions, they would give them an enormous embrace because there is a bond that will be there forever.

And that's because of Geech - the ultimate Lion.

Matt Dawson was talking to BBC Sport's Pranav Soneji

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see also
Lions legend McGeechan knighted
31 Dec 09 |  Sport Homepage
South Africa 9-28 Lions
04 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
McGeechan hails outstanding Lions
04 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
The word on Geech
14 May 08 |  Rugby Union
McGeechan given Lions coach role
14 May 08 |  Rugby Union

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