THE chances of Scotland coach Andy Robinson becoming head coach of the 2013 British and Irish Lions increased yesterday when it emerged that England’s interim coach Stuart Lancaster will not be considered, nor will whoever is appointed as the full-time replacement for Martin Johnson.
Robinson will now effectively be on trial against Wales coach Warren Gatland and Ireland coach Declan Kidney during the forthcoming RBS Six Nations.
The trio are the leading candidates to take charge of next year’s ten-match three-Test tour to Australia – but should the Lions committee ultimately decide none of them fits the bill, chief executive John Feehan has confirmed that Grand Slam winning Scotland coach Ian McGeechan would be considered.
The Lions expect to make the appointment in April. All three national coaches have indicated their desire to lead the Lions. The successful candidate will stand down from his current role for the 2013 Six Nations in order to maximise his preparation time.
“You don’t have to be a genius to work out who the candidates are so from that perspective, we will keep an eye on them and see how well they do [in the Six Nations],” said Feehan yesterday.
“All of those people are committed to wanting to do it, which is fantastic. It really comes down to performance now and who we feel will work best.
“Once we have selected the coach, we wouldn’t want them involved in the 2013 Six Nations because we would like to take the pressure away from them in terms of results.
“We also want the coach to be able to get access to and contact with all the international players in the different squads. He is not going to be able to do that if he is an active coach. We have the support of the Six Nations to do that.”
Feehan was quick to point out that the job would not necessarily go to the coach that wins the Six Nations, stressing that the decision would be based on relative performance.
Lancaster will not be considered because he does not have the required experience.
McGeechan said at the end of the 2009 tour to South Africa, which reinvigorated the Lions concept despite an agonising 2-1 Test series defeat, that he would not take the coaching reins again. After a total of seven Lions tours, McGeechan indicated the 2013 coaching team should be built around those who assisted him in South Africa – Gatland, Shaun Edwards, Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree.
Feehan confirmed that Lions experience will be a key factor in the final decision while performances at the 2011 World Cup will be considered too.
“We won’t rule a coach out if he hasn’t [got Lions experience] but clearly the more experience, the better,” Feehan said.
“The big problem with Lions tours is that you have to get it right from day one. There are no second chances so if a guy understands that and understands the ethos that needs to be built up with the players and the management, it helps. It is a definite bonus to them but a coach is more than just experience.
“There are one or two candidates who haven’t been on a tour before and I have no doubt that they can bring their own insights and own intuition into the situation.”
The final decision will be made by the Lions board, which is made up of representatives from the four home unions – Tom Grace (Ireland), Gerald Davies (Wales), Andy Irvine (Scotland), John Spencer (England) – plus Feehan.
McGeechan will also have an input and he remains a fall-back option should the board fail to be impressed with any of the current home nations coaches.
“If we were stuck at the end of the day and we didn’t think any of the coaches were appropriate then we might ask Geech to reconsider his position,” Feehan said. “Geech is still a viable option if he so chooses. We haven’t had that discussion and probably won’t in the event that a candidate makes himself clear.
“But Geech is probably the best servant the Lions have ever had and we value his views and opinions so he will have an input on where it goes.”
Feehan expects Dr James Robson to head up the medical team on his sixth Lions tour while Greg Thomas has already been appointed head of communications and Guy Richardson as director of operations.
The Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO 12 finals will both take place in the last week of May, limiting the squad’s preparation time before their opening match against Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June. But Feehan confirmed there would be no late arrivals on tour – other than as injury replacements – with a squad of up to 37 players to leave together.