Lions legend tells Sky Sports about sleepless nights ahead when it comes to selection
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC
Last Updated: 02/07/12 10:50am
Sir Ian McGeechan believes selection will be "critical" to the hopes of the British and Irish Lions in Australia.
With less than 12 months to go until the Lions head Down Under, the race for places on the plane is already on.
A number of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales staked their claims during the June internationals, while the Lions have a proud history of their left-field picks paying off.
However Lions legend McGeechan, who toured twice as a player and five times as a coach, insists there is a long way to go yet in the selection process - with a few sleepless nights ahead before the final announcement.
McGeechan, who led the Lions to their famous 2-1 series triumph over the Wallabies in 1989, told Sky Sports: "I think the selection of the squad will be critical.
"It is easy enough to pick 20-25 players but it is the last 10 that are crucial and they are the ones that could make the tour.
"In '09 the authorities wanted the squad to be announced after the end of the Six Nations but I refused. It was in the month after that we were able to give players that second, third, fourth and fifth look for those final places. It is then that a player that could just catch your eye.
"You start looking at players from October onwards and we didn't seriously look at the final selection until after the Six Nations.
"You will start off looking at 60-70 players and will whittle it down as time goes on, with the selections evolving all the time until April.
"In the end, though, some of the selections will be gut feeling. Something will be there and you just can't put your finger on what it is but you get a feeling that it is right.
"None of this is written in stone, though, and there are plenty of sleepless nights when it comes to selection. "
Naming the final touring party is not the end of the problems for the coaches, though, with McGeechan knowing only too well how hard it is to try and get the selections of the Test team right - especially with only a limited amount of time to prepare.
"Getting that selection right is the biggest challenge for the coaches," said McGeechan.
"I have always believed that you have got to give players every opportunity to show what they can do on tour. With so few games before the Test matches, it effectively means you won't be able to name your test team until three days before.
"However, you need to look at different combinations and players and sometimes you just get that feeling that something will work.
"In '09 Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts emerged and they went on to be the best centre pairing in the world that year. You don't see something like this until the players get together and are given that opportunity."
The selection of the Lions will be made so much harder by the wealth of talent currently available - with Wales having finished fourth at the World Cup and pushed Australia close, England enjoying a revival under Stuart Lancaster, Scotland impressing during their summer tour and Ireland having seen Leinster clinch the Heineken Cup.
And McGeechan believes there is every reason for the Lions to be confident of clinching their first series win since 1997.
"I believe the Lions have a really good chance in Australia," McGeechan said.
"There is a group of really talented younger players coming through and with another year they will keep developing and improving.
"It is very exciting the amount of quality in different positions. In the back row, for example, there is fantastic competition for the places and there will be some superb players left at home. I think if you look at all of the back rows across the home unions they could all stake a claim to start for the Lions."
Although McGeechan will not be involved coaching the Lions this time around - with Warren Gatland poised to take over the duties after being part of the backroom staff in 2009 - he has been working in a consultancy role.
And having helped tour manager Andy Irvine put the structure in place for the 2013 schedule, McGeechan is hoping that the Australians will play their part in making the tour a success for everyone involved.
"Andy has been dealing with most of it now but I still think there are some things that need a sympathetic eye from a Lions perspective as Australia will want to work things in their favour where they can," McGeechan said.
"Australia obviously will want to win but it is vital there is the right balance for everyone."
Sir Ian McGeechan is the ambassador for FirstCape wine which has launched www.lionswineclub.com in association with The British & Irish Lions. For more information about FirstCape wine visit www.firstcape.com