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March 08, 2022 6 min read

Craig Willson

August 25, 2020

Craig Wilson was born in England and is currently the mens and women's head Coach at Yale University. Wilson was internationally capped for the Hong Kong National Team and has represented professional academies at Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints. He has played in both the Scottish and Hong Kong premiership and coached the India National Team at both XV’s and sevens.   

“Start with the playing group. Start with what they want to do and why they want to do it."

Sir Ian McGeechan won thirty-two caps, playing at fly-half and centre, and captained the team nine times. Sir Ian, as a player, toured with the British and Irish Lions in both 1974 and 1977.

Sir Ian was the British and Irish Lions Head Coach in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009. In 2005 he coached the midweek side on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand on the invitation of Sir Clive Woodward. On the international stage, Sir Ian also won the 1990 Grand Slam with Scotland. 

Domestically, Sir Ian became the Director of Rugby at London Wasps in 2005, and led his team to the Powergen Anglo-Welsh Cup title, beating Llanelli Scarlets in the final at Twickenham. In his second season, London Wasps claimed the Heineken Cup and in his third season, they lifted the Premiership cup.

In 2010 Sir Ian joined the coaching staff at Gloucester as an advisor to Head Coach Bryan Redpath and his coaching team, and in 2010 he moved to local rivals Bath Rugby as performance director.

Rugby Wisdom Podcast

Sir Ian McGeechan

Craig Wilson:Welcome to our Rugby Wisdom show. I’m your host, Craig Wilson. This is the podcast that brings you wisdom from rugby’s greatest minds, and this show is brought to you by World Rugby Shop. This is your destination for exclusive rugby gear, equipment, and team apparel. Visit

On today’s show, I’m joined by Sir Ian McGeechan. Sir Ian is known as the ultimate Lion. He played for the Lions in the ’74 and ’77 tours, and was appointed the head coach for the Lions for the ’89 tour with his legacy continuing in ’93, ’97, and ’09. Sir Ian also coached the Midweek side in ’05. He’s had success outside of the Lions, winning the 1990 Grand Slam with Scotland and the English Premiership and the European Heineken Cup with Wasps.

Sir Ian, welcome to the podcast.

Sir Ian McGeechan: Craig, delighted to speaking to you.

Craig Wilson: Thank you so much, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your wisdom with me and the listeners, so let’s jump straight into it. Your success as a coach is well documented and rightly celebrated, but I would like to dive behind the scenes and learn how you facilitated team cohesion across all the groups that you worked with, and what team cohesion actually looks and feels like.

Sir Ian McGeechan: I think some of it comes from the experiences you build as a player and understand the way people treat you, and developed you. I was very fortunate that I can remember a person’s name to every almost piece of development or event that helped me move forward, and I think that stayed with me as a coach, that if you understand what an individual is about, strengths and weaknesses, what he needs, how he feels about himself or herself, then you’ve got a chance as a coach of really relating that person and what they do to the team effort. And you know, I feel I was very fortunate being given the opportunity to be taught and directed by some really good people who put their time out to allow me to develop, and I think it’s that any team starts with the individual, and I think if they understand that, they can understand their relationship with the players that they come across most in a game, in the units, but also then the effect of that unit on what the team can do and how other units or other groups can be involved and having that understanding.

And I think simplicity of understanding, to see the picture of where you want the team to be, and how they see the team being, and then where you are at the moment and what it takes then to move it forward. And even with the Lions, I used to say to beat South Africa, or New Zealand, Australia, whatever, actually what do we want to look like? When we’re on the field playing, what is it going to take to beat those teams with their strengths? And then say, “Well, if that’s the way we want to play, the way we need to play, how far away are we from that type of performance?” And then step back and look at the things that need to be in place to be able to deliver collectively that performance.

And I’ve always believed there’s a collective intelligence in a group, that players have their own perspectives about how they can do things, about the impact they can have on the team, and the impact they have on a coach, as well. I mean, I’ve learned so much from players just in conversations or assessing something in training that we might have changed or adapted to actually make the overall success happen and be effective. And I think that then spreads out, that the environment you’re in, you enjoy being in because everybody is trying to make that environment as supportive and as enjoyable, and I think enjoyment is a big thing in that collective work of enjoying being there, and enjoying moving forward, and enjoying the challenge, and I certainly have enjoyed it.

And I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been with some outstanding players and that collective intelligence, that information that comes back and is shared has been so, so worthwhile collectively to keep us moving on as a team. Even keeping, pushing hard at the boundaries of the way you can play within the game.

Craig Wilson: Brilliant. Thanks so much. And actually, just to go on with that, is there a player or staff member that has stood out to you who’s just embodied everything that you were looking for in a team and what the team needed at that particular time?

Sir Ian McGeechan: I think the teams, all the teams that have gone well, those environments that have gone well, everybody’s taken it on board, and that’s where I think I’ve been lucky in some of the people and some of the personalities. And even going to the Lions, when you think of when we were developing the playing style to beat South Africa back in 1997, and we talked about it as a team of what we needed to do and how we needed to look at games, and you’re back to what did we want to look like and what does that require of me, and Martin Johnson took that on brilliantly as a captain, when in fact he’d never been a captain of a team before.

But he epitomized just what was needed, that he had an open mind. We were looking at what we wanted to do and then we’d really bore down into how we made that performance work and what was needed in training so the outcome would be right, and one of the things we knew we had to do was play really competitively, and be within one score of South Africa with 15, 20 minutes to go, because we believed collectively we had the discipline and an approach that would lead to scores. And one of the games early on, the third game I think against Western Province, we had a press conference afterwards and Martin Johnson, the press were asked, “Why did you keep playing?” We’d beaten them, and we’d beat Western Province well, and they were a strong side. And we just kept playing and playing and playing. We didn’t shut the game up at all.

And he said, “If we want to achieve why we’ve come here, we’ve got to be prepared to play rugby for 80 minutes.” And that’s one of the things where I just punched myself secretly and thinking, “Yes!” The thinking on the field with the captain couldn’t be clearer.

Craig Wilson: Brilliant. And I really love that message, from asking the players and your staff like, “What do we want to look like?” I think that is so powerful. I’m gonna be taking that instantly into my own coaching environment. Sir Ian, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share this with the listeners. All the best and thank you very much.

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