A Great Man Retires – Sir Ian McGeechan
There comes a time when everyone eventually has to retire or decides to call it a day from the day-to-day involvement at the coal face so it isn’t unusual or unexpected when we hear that one arguably the greatest rugby coaches there has ever been has retired at the end of the current season.
There are very few people who when you mention their ‘nickname’ need no further introduction and in the world of rugby and outside just the mention of the word “Geech” conjures up images of a long-haired very talented player who was a member of the Greatest Lions team that went to South Africa and came back undefeated.
Ian McGeechan then went on to coach international teams always bringing innovation and an ability to train players to recognise and play what was in front of them and to recognise when to attack, it made for exciting rugby but more importantly gave talented players the opportunity to express themselves and maximise their talent.
It was a great move by Keith Barwell to invite Ian to Coach Northampton Saints and the success he brought to the town was immense. I have no doubt that it was Ian’s team that went on to win the European Cup the year after he left to return to coach Scotland, a team who knew how to win from sometimes apparently impossible positions.
What many don’t know is that he wasn’t only interested in the first team and when I was coaching the academy U19 and U21 teams at the Saints it was a regular feature for Ian to come and support the academy coaches during coaching sessions.
Perhaps it is why people respected him, a real team man who knew how to treat people at all levels of experience giving them confidence and leading from the front.
I recall one conversation we had following the first team squads return from pre-season training on which they had two spaces so the academy staff was asked which two young players should go.
We suggested Grant Seely and Budge Pountney who at the time were only 20 and had played in the East Midlands U21 National Championship winning side, (a squad incidentally that was made up entirely of Northampton Saints players).
On return Ian made a very careful judgement about Budge,
“He made himself a bloody nuisance on the training field he’ll be an International”.
That season both Budge and Grant were included in the first team squad and the rest as they say is history.
Northampton has a great deal to thank Ian for and it was well deserved when he became Sir Ian.
So it’s goodbye – or is it?
I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he doesn’t in the future appear as part of the support team on future Lions Tours.