IAN MCGEECHAN: LION MAN
PROPHETS are never recognised by their own – okay, that’s a loose paraphrase of a maxim which applies to the life, on and off the rugby pitch, of former Headingley and Scotland fly-half Ian McGeechan, who has, arguably, been far more successful as a coach than he was as a player.
North of the Border, McGeechan’s achievements, which include coaching the party which won the 1997 series in South Africa and leading Scotland to a Grand Slam in 1990, have been watered down somewhat by the Scottish rugby cogniscenti’s insistence that without Jim Telfer, McGeechan was a coaching lightweight.
In England and in the wider rugby world, the Yorkshire-born yet highly passionate Scot is regarded as something of a rugby genius – a standing borne out by 32 Test appearances for Scotland, eight Lions caps and coaching stints with the Lions, Scotland, Northampton and, latterly, Wasps, which saw him turn the London club into the dominant force in England’s Premiership and Europe though the naughties.
Written in partnership with multi award-wining Sunday Times rugby correspondent Stephen Jones, Lion Man is McGeechan’s personal take on his life in and out of rugby at club, international and Lions level.
Given that the publication date tied in with the conclusion of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, McGeechan has not wasted an opportunity to litter his offering with anecdotes about the derring do of the likes of Fergus Slattery, Willie John McBride, Ian McLaughlin and, in the more modern Lions era, Jeremy Guscott.
McGeechan’s thoughts on his early years as a coach and his reminiscences about the 1989, 1993 and 1997 Lions tours are informative and enticing without really prising the lid off tour life in a way that sheds any new light on stories that have already been told, and much more colourfully, in the past by others.
If Lion Man has any kind of edge on other rugby autobiographies, it is supplied by his thoughts on the 1997 and 2009 Lions tours.
McGeechan is typically frank in his assessment of the 2009 tour and he pulls no punches when he evaluates the ill-fated 2005 trip to New Zealand, where he played third fiddle to Sir Clive Woodward and a certain Alastair Campbell, lately spin doctor to Tony Blair and New Labour.
From first page to last, though, Lion Man sees McGeechan spell out his rugby philosophy, his belief in the bonds, the traditions and the teamwork which makes Lions tours the seminal experience of many a playing and coaching career.
Entertaining? Yes, it is, up to a point, but if the reader wants a warts’n’all expose on Lions tours, look elsewhere because there’s a distinct shortage of no-holds-barred, fly-on-the-wall revelation here.
But at a time when the validity of British Lions tours is being openly questioned, Lion Man is a timely reminder that something so unique in the rugby world should never be allowed to die.
: Simon & Schuster Ltd (UNITED KINGDOM)
: 1st October 2009
: HARDBACK - 304 Pages