McGeechan returns to familiar ground to lift Leeds’s fortunes

LIONS legend Sir Ian McGeechan has returned home to help take Leeds Carnegie back to the big time.

McGeechan has been appointed as the club’s executive chairman more than three decades after he brought the curtain down on a 16-year playing career with Headingley.

McGeechan, who is one of the most respected coaches in the history of the British and Irish Lions, succeeds Paul Caddick with immediate effect.

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His remit is to work alongside Leeds’s director of rugby Chris Gibson and head coach Diccon Edwards on a number of key initiatives, primarily to help oversee the advancement of the club’s youth policy. Leeds intend to rebuild themselves for another shot at a sustained stay in the Premiership by strengthening their dependence on their revered academy system.

They will also play three of their home fixtures this season at other grounds around Yorkshire in an effort to improve their links with the wider community.

And McGeechan, who played on and managed three triumphant Lions teams, is seen as the perfect figurehead to take the club into this brave new era.

McGeechan, who left his role as Bath’s director of rugby earlier this year, said: “I am delighted to have this opportunity to come back to where it all started for me and give something back to my club.

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“I want to do everything I can to help develop the strong base there is already established here so that Yorkshire talent continues to be given an opportunity to shine at Leeds Carnegie.

“I have been involved with setting up and developing a number of academies in my career and as an ex-school master I know the potential of youth within the best possible structure.

“An important part of my role will be to build relationships with businesses, sponsors and clubs across Yorkshire to create ultimately a sustainable base to build professional rugby here in Yorkshire.

“The role of executive chairman is a new role for me but one that I am very excited about. I am keen to support the club in any way I can.

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“I was fortunate in my early Headingley days to be guided by older, wiser players who helped shape me as an individual and now all these years on, things have come full circle and I have the opportunity to do exactly the same.”

McGeechan was born in Kirkstall in 1946 and joined Headingley RFC as a teenager in 1963.

By the time of his final game for his only club in 1980, McGeechan had also played for Yorkshire, 32 times for Scotland and on the famous Lions tour to South Africa in 1974. As a coach he led the Lions to series wins in Australia in 1989 and South Africa eight years later.

He has also led Scotland, Northampton Saints, Wasps and, latterly, Bath.

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Leeds have spent eight of the past 11 seasons in the Premiership but after a mid-table finish back in the second tier last term, chief executive Gary Hetherington undertook a root and branch review of the club’s structure.

With fresh investment hard to attract it was deemed that rebuilding around their youth set-up would be the most prudent way to relaunch their Premiership ambitions.

Hetherington said: “Sir Ian McGeechan is someone who is admired and respected throughout the sporting world. He has played and coached at the very highest level across the eras in rugby union from the amateur days, the transition to the professional game and in modern times.

“I would like to place on record our gratitude and thanks to Paul Caddick for his continued support of the club and for agreeing to step down as chairman to allow Ian to join Leeds Carnegie.

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“Ian will have a number of key objectives, that are not focused on coaching, that he will be aiming to deliver on as we look to strengthen our business and fulfil our potential by returning to the Premiership.

“As well as his obvious rugby expertise, Ian will also work closely with our commercial director Rob Oates and business development manager John Bentley to attract new sponsors and partners to the club. Ian is a passionate Yorkshireman and importantly, passionate about rugby union in Yorkshire and his addition is a major boost to the county.”

Caddick has pumped millions into Leeds Carnegie during two spells on the club’s board.

He said: “The board of directors have always looked to make decisions to continually move the club forward and I believe this appointment is one of the most significant signings we have ever made.

“I will continue to be a major supporter of the club in my role as chairman of Leeds Rugby and look forward to welcoming Ian home for the new season.”