Sir Ian McGeechan believes the Leeds Rhinos remain an invaluable source of knowledge for Leeds Carnegie and it is a bond that can benefit rugby union throughout the county.
Leeds Carnegie’s latest bid to return to the Premiership begins today against Nottingham at Castle Park with the Rhinos’ influence on the 15-man operation growing by the year.
The two clubs operate under the umbrella of Leeds Rugby, use the same training facilities at Kirkstall and share a healthy percentage of staff.
Leeds Rugby even named a new head coach for Carnegie in James Lowes who is steeped in league tradition.
McGeechan returned to his home club last year in the role of executive chairman, and while he continues to forge links throughout Yorkshire and promotes Carnegie as the premier union club in the county, he maintains that Leeds can aspire to that title whilst continuing to work closely with the Rhinos.
“It’s a great partnership we’ve got, and it’s been under-estimated or not made the most of in the past,” said the 66-year-old Lions legend.
“Yes the two games aren’t the same but there’s a lot of principles in there that apply no matter what sport you play.
“There’s some brilliant role models in the Rhinos. That’s what a good environment looks like and we can build on that.
“The closeness with Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Carnegie behind the scenes in how we are managing, supporting and sharing ideas is a big plus. And I love that side of it, speaking to people like Brian McDermott (Rhinos head coach).
“All of that is knowledge that you can put out to the county coaches and use to develop the whole rugby union base in Yorkshire.”
McGeechan does, though, feel that Leeds Carnegie need to retain some independence, while taking a leaf out of the Rhinos book on how to build a successful team.
He said: “It is different, it has to be different. There’s an understanding between the two internally rather than artificial walls between us.
“There’s a good atmosphere around the union side. We’ve got a consistency in our squad this year, rather than 10, 12 players leaving at the end of the season, and that’s how you build strength.
“The Rhinos are always going to fill Headingley because they’ve had phenomenal success in the last decade. What we’ve got to do is build on that environment which is second to none and build our own environment and we only do that by the way we are playing.”
McGeechan’s role in the development of the club is primarily working with other clubs and schools, the community department and the academy to strengthen links with the rest of the county.
Last season’s ‘On the Road’ experiment – which was extended to almost half a season because of the re-laying of the Headingley pitch – went some way to building relationships.
Leeds’s desire to be regarded as the county’s leading club might be seen as arrogant by some, but a history that includes eight years in the Premiership suggests they are better equipped than anyone to make that claim.
Returning to the top flight will put that debate to bed, and is something McGeechan believes is sustainable even with Leeds’s policy of primarily recruiting young Yorkshire players and developing them through their academy.
“I think it’s sustainable, and we want to have a real crack at the Premiership,” said McGeechan.
“We’re going to have to be really on the ball and build on what we did last season, because that experience will help us.
“This time last year we were a new side and a lot of the players didn’t know each other well; by the end they did know each other well and they had a confidence in each other and what they were doing and it’s important they take that responsibility to move it on.
“It’s a stronger Championship than it’s ever been. The standard is significantly higher than it was two or three years ago.”
McGeechan had no say in the coaching change that saw Diccon Edwards leave and Lowes permanently move across from the Rhinos.
The grand old master of coaching – who led the Lions to victory in South Africa in 1997 – speaks regularly with Lowes, forwards coach Tommy McGee and the rest of the staff, but his day job now is mainly done with a shirt and tie on.
“We talk virtually every day, but I would never undermine (Lowes’) role as head coach. He’s got some very good thinking, very good thoughts, he’s very good with the players,” said McGeechan.
“I enjoy talking with the coaches and I’m still learning, even now just looking at teams like New Zealand and South Africa, there’s always something you learn because you’re trying to push the game on all the time.”
As for his day job, and developing the club, McGeechan said: “I’m enjoying it. We’ve got a lot of good things in place. The academy is in good shape and we got a good report back from the RFU.
“We’ve moved that on significantly since last September.
“We’re looking now at doing community programmes Yorkshire wide, we’re really looking at a satellite development of the academy for the whole of the county.
“We’ve got an RFU responsibility to make sure we’re in place to develop that and I’ve been keen to see that through, and that’s where all my efforts have been.
“It’s important that we’re out there sharing knowledge and sharing games because I don’t want the best of the talent going elsewhere, I want it coming here to us.
“In the end, I’d like to think that what Leeds reflects is the best of Yorkshire. That might take three, four or five years for that to bed in, but that is the ambition.”