Exclusive Interview For InTouch Rugby With Lions Legend Sir Ian McGeehan – The Intensity Jeremy Davidson Brought To The Lions

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The folklore of the Lions, the ROAR, puts the hairs up an Ulstermans neck, and the opportunity to interview a legend who played with and was captained by Willie John and Syd Millar, playing along side Dick Milliken and working with Jeremy Davidson, not to mention the deepest of rugby friendships across ulster & Irelands many many lions, the opportunity to interview Sir Ian McGeehan is something that brings home just how close to the hearts of Lions we are.

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

The build up to the Lions is gathering pace as the Warren Gatland works relentlessly with the selection panel to bring together the players who will form the greatest team in the world in the last 4 years as they travel with 35,000+ supporters in a sea of RED to Oz where the whirlwind that is the Lions will do battle in the greatest rugby tour ever concieved!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We asked Sir Ian these few questions below – we hope you enjoy reading this and re awaken the lion in all of us moving into the greatest period of Ulster Rugby in our 133 year history!

1) Sir Ian, the Lions, the roar, the greatest rugby touring side in the world. What is it like to be in the changing rooms before a game as a player or coach?

As a player it was an unreal feeling. You were sat in the changing room with Lions legends, Willie John McBride, Gareth Edwards, John Peter Rhys Williams, Fran Cotton and you were looking at players you never thought you would get the opportunity to play alongside. I remember Dick Milliken and I both pinching ourselves at the tremendous honour of our present company.

The impact playing with the Lions was incredible. So when you have the opportunity to coach them you never lose that feeling of being part of a very special group of people, in a special place. You have that sense of the ultimate responsibility and experience.

Up to ‘93 there wasn’t huge travelling support. However, in ‘97 (a watershed in how the lions were viewed by supporters) that changed. It became a bigger responsibility and you were heading up this whole group travelling 10,000 miles on tour. Seeing the wall of red in ‘97 and ‘09 was phenomenal. It was the same in ‘01 and ‘05 and now 35,000 plus people travel across the world together, adds all the time to the enormity of the tour.

2) Playing and coaching on a lions tour must have a very special buzz from players standing and living in the shoes of history. Would there be any moments with Jeremy Davidson, Tyrone Howe, Willie John McBride, Stephen Ferris, Syd Millar, or Cecil Pedlow, to name but a few of Ulsters Lions, that come to your mind?

The obvious name for me is Dick Milliken. We played in the centre in all 4 tests in ‘74 and built up a solid friendship over 4 months which we maintain now. We have never lost that closeness of playing alongside each other in a Lions jersey and sharing that opportunity. The toughest test was the 3rd test in ‘74 in Port Elizabeth, we were physically hammered inside our 22 for 30 minutes and South Africa never crossed our line. You have a look at each other and you see that we will never be the same, we eventually broke away for a try and a record score the first victory South Africa had ever suffered on their soil.

Jeremy Davidson in ‘97 trained really well and his game suited us so much. He consequently held majority ball possession. Martin Johnson was calling ball to Jeremy in the lineout. We had to try to avoid him injuring our own players in training!

When we won the first test in ‘74 watching Syd Miller’s and Willie John McBride’s reaction it really captured the overwhelming pride of the Lions and what being part of it meant. They had been there twice before and lost. That’s when you know how special it is, and I didn’t realise until much later the significance of those wins.

3) What goes on tour stays on tour: It is exciting, for a group of youngsters heading out on their first overseas tour to the young men heading on a lions tour and the supporters, there are times when the fun side of a tour changes perhaps just before a game or during a game or at half time when players know that they must access THE LION within them, as a team, as individuals, are there moments that spring to your mind when an Ulsterman comes to your memory?

The obvious one is Willie John Mcbride in ‘74. As a captain it was the things he said before a game and you knew then that you had to bring out everything. He had a calmness about him and a very clear focus about what needed to be done, what mattered was the next 80 minutes, to put it out there again to make the difference.

He and Syd Millar worked out the ‘99 call, so if it was getting out of hand we would let the opposition know that we had come to take on anything. It was only used on 2 occasions, and it said we are here for real and together, especially being refereed by a South African in a game against South Africans. It was a statement of intent that we were there for all the right reasons.

What is the right mind set?

It’s simplifying, things not over complicating. Its world class basics, that what you understand is not the same as everyone but everyone brings the same things to the pitch. They wear a number and if they deliver the basics of that number then the team may do well. It’s not over complicating it with tactics, it’s your role, and the team effort isn’t the same, it’s a complimentary set of actions that bring 15 players into a game.

4) The lions represent 4 different and competing rugby nations and as they unite (by putting aside their differences and fears) to battle as Lions new friendships are formed. This is one of the central themes of the lions, what friendships stand out for you?

Personally it’s Dick Milliken and the friendship that we forged in the centre in ’74, then as a coach in ‘89 in Australia and again in ’97. There is a common feeling amongst the Lions that you can pick up where you left off; particularly with the ‘74 group, we are so easy in each other’s company.

As an example, I believe the partnership formed between Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Robertson was the best centre partnership in the world for those 7 weeks. What they did and the relationship and chemistry between them formed an incredible partnership.

5) The opposition are not keen on losing, but without opposition there is no game. To win requires a team to obtain a sense of history and to give themselves to all the moments during a game, to play for the sheer freedom and love of the game. A No 8 crashes out from behind a scrum, or a centre draws 3 players to release the back line, or a prop takes a ball against the head to name but a few moments, the fear of failure can stifle creativity and on the Lions stage what advice would you give to players who will be on the 2013 side?

The great thing about a Lions tour is the incredible collection of talent from all different corners of countries and if the chemistry is right you get very powerful collaborations. In ‘09 we played the best rugby, we were fearless and that was how the Lions wanted to play, the type of game and performance that we wanted to play and how we wanted to look like as Lions.

6) How big will the smiles be when we win 2013?!

Huge when you are looking at 35,000 plus who will be soaking up the Lions phenomenon. There will be smiles on so many faces, it’s the numbers, the feel good factor and also all those people who now wear the Lions badge and the knowledge that this feeling will be shared throughout all 4 countries. The Lions jersey is the biggest selling jersey in that year for Adidas which means that the concept and allure of the Lions is inspirational it incorporates that sense of team spirit and pride in so many people, it’s nothing to do with boundaries and borders. It will leave relationships that will last well into the future.

Many, many thanks to Sir Ian McGeehan for these memories.

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

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