(25 October 1963)
Australia (72 Tests, 15 tests as Captain)
Queensland (100 Matches)
Michael ‘Noddy’ Lynagh’s place in the pantheon of Australian and World Rugby is one that is likely to never be challenged. Described by Rugby historian Jack Pollard as “one of the most accomplished players in world rugby” Lynagh was one of the best five-eighth’s and most prolific point scorers the game has ever seen setting scoring and appearance records that still stand. Although Lynagh’s career straddled both the amateur and professional eras, long before players became globe trotting professionals, the path breaking Terrace old boy had already embarked on an international club career. A hallmark of Lynagh’s career was facing challenges. He had the misfortune to follow Paul McLean as Queensland’s first choice five-eight, Mark Ella as Australian five-eighth and Nick Farr-Jones as Australian captain; all of these men’s achievements were thought to be unsurpassable. Yet Lynagh faced these and a number of other substantial challenges on the Rugby field with equal degrees of talent, poise, and intelligence that saw him ascend to the top of the game as a World Cup winner, Wallaby captain, and world point scoring record holder.
Lynagh first attended St Josephs College Gregory Terrace in 1974 as a year 5 student and he excelled as both a cricket and Ruby player throughout his primary school years. Prior to beginning his stellar schoolboy Rugby career Lynagh spent a year in the United States with his family when his father, a psychologist, sought to further his professional career through studying at the Oregon State University. Not surprisingly the young Lynagh became his High School football (Gridiron) team’s place kicker in a portent to the importance his abilities with the boot were to have in the Rugby code. Upon his return to Brisbane the young, prodigiously talented five-eighth was pitched into the Gregory Terrace first XV in 1979 while still in grade 10 – and yet still found time to develop into an excellent cricket player. During his three years in the First XV Lynagh was the team’s leading point scorer and assumed the leadership mantle as team captain in his final year at school in 1981. This was a golden period of Terrace Rugby. The firsts were so dominant during this period they won the GPS premiership competition and amazing 5 years in succession between 1977 and 1981.
Before he began his senior career, Lynagh was chosen to tour the United Kingdom with the 1981-82 Australian Rugby Union schoolboys. Upon returning and entering the University of Queensland in 1982 to pursue a Human Movements degree, Lynagh was elevated straight into the club’s A-Grade premiership team where he made a seamless transition from schoolboy to senior club football. Lynagh was an instant success in Brisbane club rugby and although still only 18 years old the young five-eighth was chosen to make his full state debut in 1982. He made the move with aplomb. In 1983 he kicked two goals in the Reds’ 14-10 victory over the visiting USA and starred in the Reds’ 28-34 loss to a full strength Argentina. As a result Lynagh was selected as Mark Ella’s understudy for an Australian tour to Italy and France where his play in the mid week team stoked debate as to who was the better five-eighth of the two tremendously talent, hard working, and yet subtly different play makers.
While Lynagh’s amazing skills translated to an early state debut he was forced to wait a further two years before making his full test debut. Lynagh was held out of the Wallaby side by Ella the side’s mercurial five-eighth and the talented and experienced Michael Hawker in the inside centre position. However, when Hawker chose to forgo the Wallaby’s 1984 tour of Fiji to get married, Lynagh’s chance to become a senior international representative presented itself. Playing at inside centre, Lynagh debuted in Suva against the Fijians on a field described as “slop”. The Wallabies persevered in the difficult conditions to secure a 16-3 win with Lynagh beginning an amazing streak of scoring in consecutive test matches when he kicked three penalty goals to secure the victory in Suva.
Despite Lynagh’s display on tour the well credentialed Hawker regained his place in the Wallabies run on-side for the three test home series against the visiting All Blacks. With the New Zealanders securing a 2-1 series victory and a four test match tour of Great Britain ensuing at the end of the 1984 season, new coach Alan Jones made a number of crucial changes. The inclusion of Lynagh was perhaps the most important. It was Jones decision to play Lynagh alongside Ella permanently in the inside centre position that gave Lynagh the opportunity to play regular test rugby and offer Ella a perfect compliment to his attacking genius.
The 1984 Wallaby tour to Great Britain quickly entered Australian Rugby Union folklore. The visiting Australians won each of their four tests against the home unions, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and Lynagh played a crucial role in all four tests. He was the perfect companion to Mark Ella at inside centre forcing defences to focus on more than just one player and his kicking was seminal to the success of the Australians. Australia secured the ‘grand slam’ with wins over England 19-3 at Twickenham, Ireland 16-9 in Dublin, Wales 28- 9 in Cardiff, and Scotland 37 -12 in Edinburgh. In a feat of amazing individual skill, Ella scored a try in each of the four matches and created a unique place for himself in Australian sporting history. Lynagh’s achievements were, however, comparable. He played in each of the four tests and tallied 42 test points to go with his touring leading 98 points overall.
As had been the case during much of the early part of his career, Mark Ella was to play an important part in Lynagh’s Wallaby future. Following the grand slam success the 25 year-old Ella announced his retirement from international rugby – many thought this premature and bemoaned the loss of one of the most talented players to ever wear the Wallaby gold. Thus, Lynagh only 21 years old himself at the outset of the 1985 season, found himself thrust into one of the hardest roles in Australian Rugby as Ella’s successor. Although he did not make anyone forget the talented former five eighth, Lynagh’s achievements in the immediate years after the grand slam were certainly of the highest calibre. In the opening test match of the 1985 season Lynagh began what was to become a storied partnership with half-back Nick Farr Jones with a test match walloping of visiting Canada by a then record 59-3 margin. However, the 1985 season was a relatively quiet one on the international scene with only two tests against the visiting Canadians and a narrow loss to New Zealand.
With the advent of the 1986 international test match season Lynagh boomed as an international five-eighth and goal kicker. His talent saw him score his 200th test point with a penalty goal against NZ in Auckland in 1986 to secure the Bledisloe Cup for Australia with a 22-9 win in the third test match. Terry Smith noted that this remarkable achievement had come in only Lynagh’s fifteenth test match and before he had turned twenty three years of age due to his “marvellous blend of athleticism and skill, courage and concentration”.
While the 1987 season opened with much promise for Australian Rugby, the Wallabies results were far short of expectations and the season finished with a myriad of controversies. The primary goal of the Alan Jones coached Australian team was the first ever Rugby Union World Cup to be jointly hosted in New Zealand and Australia with the Wallabies as somewhat surprising favourites. However, despite their early tournament form, Australia surprisingly lost their semi-final clash against France. The Wallabies then fell victim to a rampant Wales in a spiteful third place playoff which saw David Codey sent from the field and the Welsh record a 22-21 victory. To make matters worse, the Wallabies had to watch as their archrivals, the All Blacks, lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy as the first ever official Rugby World champions. If Australian Rugby was not in enough turmoil, rumours of a rebel tour to South Africa also eventuated after the World Cup and saw a series of machinations where former Australian captain Andrew Slack and other senior players were banned from the game only to be reinstated following support from their test counterparts.
After these damaging events the Australians set out for a two match test series in Argentina. After drawing the first match, Lynagh captained Australia for the first time in their 27-19 loss to Argentina in Buenos Aires on 7 November which saw the Wallabies taste test series defeat in Argentina for the first time. Despite his early success in winning the grand slam the Australian team had become an unsettled and ineffective team under coach Alan Jones and a board room coup saw him replaced by Bob Dwyer as the test coach.
Under Dwyer the team’s harmony was restored and the Australians set about an arduous schedule of test matches both at home and abroad. In 1988 the Wallabies played tests against England and New Zealand at home and undertook a 15 match tour of England, Scotland and Italy, despite all players still officially being amateurs. Beset by numerous retirements, the Wallabies were in a rebuilding phase and Lynagh, new captain Nick Farr-Jones and winger David Campese became the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Australian Rugby by 1988 as the team came to rely on their individuals brilliance and on and off field leadership.
The 1989 season was even more eventful and saw Lynagh reach the height of his powers with a masterful display against the visiting British and Irish Lions. In the first test victory over the combined side drawn from the four home unions, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, Lynagh was “unerring with both his on-field decision making and his right boot” to steer the home side to what was a handy 1-0 series lead. However, the combined side fought back to win the remaining two tests, the third in dramatic style, to secure a 2-1 series win. In addition the Australians faced Fiji, Western Samoa, New Zealand and undertook a 10 match tour of Canada and France. Throughout this same period Lynagh found time to star for the Queensland Reds in the newly formed South Pacific Championship which was the fore runner to the Super 10, 12, and 14 competitions and to continue his university studies.
Like the years before, 1990 was to bring more acclaim and point scoring records for Lynagh; but it was to be his on field partnership with captain and half-back Farr-Jones that became crucial to Australian test Rugby fortunes. Lynagh scored a record breaking 24 points in a 67-9 victory over the USA in Brisbane at Ballymore on 8 July 1990. For good measure he also tallied the exact same amount of points, twenty-four, in a test against France later that same season. Although Lynagh and Farr-Jones had played together in the national team since 1984, in 990 they began a sequence of 47 consecutive test matches in the pivotal five-eighth and half-back positions – a world record. Later that year the pair’s unique combination and Lynagh’s kicking abilities were seminal in the Wallabies’ 21-9 upset of the All Blacks in Wellington to end the New Zealanders’ 50 match 23 test winning streak.
Again the 1991 international season bought the challenge of Rugby Union World Cup; this time to be held in the United Kingdom and France. In preparation for the tournament the ARU programmed a heavy schedule. Australia. Although the Wallabies were successful throughout the season in international matches, a 6-3 defeat by the All Blacks in New Zealand in a game in which the normally reliable Lynagh missed 6 of his 7 attempts a goal was a personal nadir for him.
Despite this defeat the Wallabies departed for the northern hemisphere confident of upsetting the favourites New Zealand and the host nation England in the second Rugby Union World Cup. Although the Australians progressed through the early stages of the tournament with out too much trouble, beating Argentina, Western Samoa, and Wales, the quarter final match was to become a game in which Lynagh wrote himself into the annals of Australian Rugby history. With Farr-Jones injured and the Australians facing Ireland at Dublin’s famous Landsdowne Road, the Wallabies seemed to have the match within their grasp leading 15-12 with five minutes remaining. However, Irish flanker Gordon Hamilton’s try in the corner gave the home side an 18-15 lead and put them in touch of a famous and unexpected victory. As stand in Captain Lynagh engineered a miraculous escape. He handled twice in a move that featured Campese and the newest Queensland wunderkind Tim Horan to secure a famous 19-18 victory for the Wallabies and set a date with New Zealand in the semi-final.
The clash with the All Blacks became another memorable one for Australian Rugby and its fans. With the famous Wallabies’ ‘running rugby’ on display the Australians played a masterful match with David Campese starring to defeat the pre-tournament favourites 16-6 and to show the win against Ireland had not been one of chance. Facing the determined Englishmen in front of their home crowd at Twickenham, the Australian’s turned in a solid display to secure the William Webb Ellis Trophy 12-6 with Lynagh kicking two goals to take his tournament tally to 66 points – second among all players and evidence of his importance to what was surely one of Australian Rugby’s crowning moments.
Having reached the pinnacle of his sport, Lynagh felt he needed new challenges in the game; two presented themselves almost immediately. For the 1991-92 northern hemisphere season he joined Italian club Benetton based near Trevisio where he was both a star player and a promoter of the game to the round ball code of football loving Italians. While this meant he was not always available to play for his beloved Queensland Reds, Lynagh claimed the experience stopped him from “getting stale” after the 1991 World Cup win and this was an important consideration for an Australian team that was to come to rely on Lynagh’s special brand of brilliance and rugby knowledge. The second challenge came at home. But would have to wait until the end of the 1992 international season – first Australia had to face new challenges as a team.
The reigning world champions began the 1992 test match year with an easy win against Scotland, in a match during which Lynagh surpassed 700 test match points with a try, 1 conversion and 3 penalty goals. Two weeks later the Wallabies played their final test match under the 4-point try rule, but this did not prevent them defeating their Scottish visitors 37-13. The Australian’s then faced the All Blacks in a three match test series and with wins in the first two tests, added the Bledisloe Cup to their burgeoning trophy cabinet. While these victories were important to the side, their greatest challenge still lay ahead.
Due to South Africa’s apartheid system of government, the nation had been expelled from official world sport for a number of decades. For a nation as obsessed and as accomplished in the sport of rugby as South Africa, this absence was one that was not handled well. With changes to the political landscape the famous and passionate rugby nation was quickly ushered back into the international fold and Australia, were the second team to meet the Springboks in an official test match scheduled for August. The lead up to the test in South Africa was intense, and Lynagh recalls being shocked at the “rude and arrogant attitude” of many South African fans towards the Wallabies’ world champion status and the players personally. Feeling the Australians were not true world champions as they had not beaten their side, South African fans expected the ‘Boks to extract revenge on the Wallabies during their return to test match football. In a hard fought mach the Australians handed the ‘Boks their biggest defeat in test rugby history by a score of 26-3 with the entire team rejoicing in silencing the rampant home crowd.
At the close of the tour captain Nick Farr-Jones announced his retirement from international Rugby and Lynagh returned to the captaincy role he had last fulfilled in Argentina in 1987. Lynagh who preferred to lead by example bought a new style to the role of Australian captain as he delegated some of his more verbal responsibilities to Vice-captain Phil Kearns confident in the knowledge that the hooker’s more vocal nature would compliment his own intuitive understanding and abilities. However, the playmakers’ first match in the leadership role did not end well as he dislocated a shoulder and was forced to spend the rest of the Wallabies 13 match tour of Ireland and Wales as a non-playing captain.
Lynagh’s stint as Australian captain continued for another two and a half years. He lead the Wallabies against Tonga to begin the 1993 home test match season; but he hospitalised with an abdominal infection prior to the 3 match clash with the visiting South Africans. Nick Farr-Jones’ international retirement was short lived and he returned to test Rugby less than a year after retiring with hooker Phil Kearns assuming the captaincy role full time. After being forced to watch Australia come from one test down to defeat the ‘Boks 2-1 in the series Lynagh returned to the field and lead the Wallabies on an 11 match tour of North America and France in 1993 in which they defeated Canada and drew a two match series with France 1 all.
The 1994 season saw Lynagh return from club duties in Italy to face Ireland, Italy, and Western Samoa. However, injuries again plagued his campaign. A thigh muscle problem meant Kearns again assumed the captaincy role and Lynagh was forced to watch the new halves paring of George Gregan and David Knox defeat Western Samoa and then secure victory and the Bledisloe Cup against the All Black in Sydney after Gregan made what is remembered as “the tackle” on flying New Zealand winger Jeff Wilson to preserve the four point victory.
1995 saw the Rugby World Cup dominate the sport’s international calendar for the third time and Lynagh became one of a handful of players to have featured in all three. For the defending champion Australians the tournament could not have gotten off to a worse start. Drawn to face the home side South Africa in a tournament that had become a welcome back to world rugby for one of the game’s international powerhouses, the Wallabies succumbed 27-18 to the ‘Boks in the opening match. They could then only muster victories against Canada (27-11) and Romania (42-3) before an inspired England secured a quarter final victory 25-22 to eliminate the defending champions from the tournament.
This bought down the curtain on Lynagh’s amazing international test career; one that spanned 12 years and saw him become one of the greats of World Rugby. During his international career Lynagh established records in point scoring, conversions in test matches, matches at five-eighth, and consecutive matches as a halves pairing with Nick Farr-Jones. Although all of those world records have been broken, Lynagh’s 911 points, 64 matches at five-eighth, 140 conversions, 177 penalty goals, and 9 drop goals remain Australian records.
After his international retirement Rugby Union administers declared the game open to professionals and Lynagh joined the famous Saracens club in London for the 1996 northern hemisphere rugby union season. His famous kicking ability proved crucial again. After a tight premiership race throughout the entire season it was a drop goal by Lynagh in the dying seconds of Saracens match against the Newcastle Falcons that saw his new side secure the premiership in the first ever English Rugby Union professional season.
Although Lynagh was approached many times during his playing career to switch to the professional code of Rugby League, he remained loyal Union believing it would provide for him in his post sporting career. During his time with the Benetton club in Italy, Lynagh was exposed to a range of business interests and used his knowledge, contacts, and hard work to carve out a successful business career. His post Rugby experiences include senior positions with specialist property firms including CB Richard Ellis, Burford Group and Prestbury Investment Holdings and roles with Clydesdale Bank and National Bank of Australia. Additionally, Lynagh stays in touch with the game as an occasional commentator for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.
Throughout his career Michael Lynagh was referred to by team-mates, opposing players, the sporting press, and rugby fans alike as ‘Noddy’. This childlike nickname belied a dedicated, talented, and courageous Rugby player. Although described as “reserved and rarely outspoken” Lynagh’s status as one of Australia’s and the world’s greatest ever players was honed through hard work that moulded his tremendous talent and natural ability. Emeritus Professor Max Howell, himself a former Wallaby inside centre, expressed the incredulity he experienced when he first saw an 18 year old Lynagh play for Brisbane’s University of Queensland club. For Howell, Lynagh’s mark on the game is one that “might possibly never be equalled.”