Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Time against Wilkinson - McGeechan

Former British and Irish Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan does not expect Jonny Wilkinson to be in the frame for Australia when Warren Gatland names his touring party on Tuesday.

Gatland is tipped to go with Ireland's Jonny Sexton and England's Owen Farrell as his first-choice fly-halves and, although England's World Cup match-winner might have been a useful back-up, McGeechan reckons he will miss out due to the timing of the departure.

The former Newcastle favourite could play for Toulon in the French Top 14 final on June 1 - the day the Lions play the first of their 10 matches against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

"He won't have the chances to be really part of the build-up," said McGeechan, coach of the last successful Lions party in South Africa in 1997 and who took them to within a hair's breadth of repeating that feat in 2009.

"In 2009 we didn't say we were preparing for each team, we were preparing for South Africa five weeks down the line. You use the five weeks as preparation and you've got everybody involved in that.

"If you've got players missing for two or three weeks out of that process, then it becomes very difficult. So I think purely from a practical point of view it's difficult."

McGeechan, 66, who will be making his eighth Lions tour, this time as an ambassador for sponsors FirstCape, believes Gatland could include some surprise picks when he unveils his squad.

"I think so," he said. "I think he will be looking at the experienced players who've been around and wondering if there is still another tour left in them, and then looking at young players who might be able to step up when they pull on a Lions jersey."

Bookmakers have stopped taking bets on the captaincy after a groundswell of support for Wales forward Sam Warburton and McGeechan believes he would an obvious choice to get the nod ahead of Irish duo Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.

"It's going to be an interesting one," McGeechan said. "I think Warren will be looking at Sam Warburton because he's worked with him. He knows him well, he's had him as his captain in the World Cup with Wales and you do have to have that captain-coach relationship."


From Belfast Telegraph