Michael “Noddy” Lynagh attended Terrace between 1974 and 1981. He played fly half for the First XV in the premiership years of 1979, 1980 and 1981. He was captain of the undefeated 1981 First XV. During the greatest years of Terrace rugby, Michael was our dominant player. He is held in great affection by a generation of Terrace boys who remember him as being a modest, incomparably gifted and talented sportsman.
Michael went on to play 100 games for Queensland, 72 tests for Australia and scored
911 points in test rugby, a then world points scoring record which remained until the
1999 World Cup and which still remains the Australian points scoring record. He was a member of the Wallaby sides which won the 1984 Grand Slam, the 1986 Bledisloe Cup and the 1991 World Cup. Michael captained the Wallabies between 1993 and 1995.
Today Michael lives in London, but during April, he spent three days with us, speaking at a school assembly, attending a training session at Tennyson, speaking to Sponsors at the Annual Brave & Game Lunch and attending (and speaking at) the Rugby Dinner. Brave & Game caught up with him.
B&G:Michael, what are your first memories of Terrace rugby?
Michael: Before I went to Terrace, my family lived on the Gold Coast. One Saturday (it must have been in or around 1972 or 1973) I remember Dad saying to me “Come on, I am going to take you to watch Terrace play?” We went to watch the Terrace First XV play TSS at Southport. I remember the tunnel and the war cries and the Terrace team running out and then the general excitement of watching the match. That was my first experience of Terrace rugby. Coincidentally, nearly a decade later, that same venue was where I played my last game for Terrace in 1981. I then started at Terrace in 1974 in grade 5. I had played a bit of soccer and rugby league to that point. My first memory of playing rugby is of running around and having fun with my mates in one of the grade 5 teams. I tended to play in the As until about under 13 and under 14 when I tended to move between the A and B teams. When I was in grade 5 my main sporting love was cricket and rugby tended to be viewed by me as “the game Terrace played in winter”. That continued to be the case as I went through the junior school. Cricket was very much my main sport at this stage. I was mainly a batsman. By the end of grade 8 (which was 1977), I was trialling for the first XI and I was selected in the first XI in grade 9 as a wicket keeper batsman. Barry Maranta, who was involved with the cricket, had encouraged me to take up wicket keeping at the end of grade 8. In grade 9, I was wicket keeping for the firsts and batting at about number 10. I gradually worked my way up the order over the next few seasons and by my senior year gave the wicket keeping away and once again became a specialist batsman. So I guess rugby in my early years played second fiddle and in those days, if I had a dream, it would have been the same dream of most young boys at the time which was to play test cricket for Australia.
B&G: Your time at Terrace was interrupted by a period when you went to live in the United States. Can you tell us about that time and is it true that you acquired your “round the corner” kicking style playing American football?
Michael: Midway through 1978, my family went to live in Oregon. Dad was at that stage in the midst of undertaking his PHD. We returned to Australia in January 1979 when I commenced grade 10. Dad remained in Oregon on or off after that for about a year. When I went to the States I thought that I might end up playing soccer again. However, one day I was throwing a football with my next door neighbour. The Americans don’t tend to go out and have a kick like we do in Australia. They rather tend to go out and throw the football to each other. So I was throwing the football with my neighbour and at one point, rather than throwing the ball, I just kicked it to him. The kick must have travelled all of about 30 metres. He was amazed to see someone kick a ball like that and I remember he asked me with a look of surprise “How did you do that?” It was just something they didn’t do. I didn’t really know why he was surprised because coming from Australia we all used to kick the ball around with our mates. Anyway, that led to my neighbour taking me down to the school football trials and after one kick I was selected in the team as the punter and kicker. I also ended up playing a little bit of running back during the season. My main job however was as the kicker and I remember that it took quite a bit of practice and concentration to get used to kicking whilst you were wearing so much padding as well as the weight of a helmet. As to where I learned to kick “around the corner”, I didn’t learn that kicking style in the States. I had been kicking in that style well before I went to the States and it was really a throwback to my soccer days. As a result of playing soccer, I had always felt that kicking around the corner was the natural way to kick the ball. At the time it was not the usual way of undertaking a conversion as most boys either drop kicked or adopted the “pot kick” style which was preferred by the likes of Paul McLean.
B&G: When you returned to Terrace at the start of 1979, did you set yourself any goals in respect of your rugby?
Michael: Well, I came back at the start of 1979 and commenced grade 10 and basically spent the first term playing cricket in the First XI. I was aware that the First XV squad was touring New Zealand at the end of the term and I remember thinking that it would be nice to make the tour. As I have indicated prior to leaving for the States, I had been tending to play my more recent rugby in the under age A and B rugby teams so to make the First XV squad was going to be a challenge. I remember that the trial games went pretty well and it was a great thrill for me when I was in fact selected for the tour. The tour was my first real exposure to the coaching of Lester Hampson. I learned a great deal on the tour and had a fantastic time. When we got home I was selected as five eighth for the Firsts.
B&G: Lester Hampson has said that he knew that you were a special talent from the first time he saw you at training because he couldn’t hear the sound of the ball hitting your hands. People talk about the great players having “soft hands”. Was that a skill you always possessed or was it something you worked on?
Michael: We all have gifts and I guess that I have been very lucky to have always been blessed with good ball skills and hand/eye co-ordination. I never took those skills for granted but skills like catching always came quite easily to me and I think that is why I was able to take to wicket keeping from a young age quite quickly.
B&G: What are your memories of Lester Hampson as a coach?
Michael: During that 1979 season I was surrounded by fantastic players and we were lucky enough to have a wonderful coach in Lester who I think was probably well ahead of his time. I think I was a bit of a sponge that first year in that I just soaked up as much as I could from Lester and I credit his coaching with probably sparking in me a real interest in rugby and its tactics. We were very well coached and very well drilled. We had quite a few moves in the backline which no other sides were attempting in those times. Lester placed a high value on skills training. We would repeat drills over and over again with the aim that when the pressure was on we could perform the skill without hesitation. I think that one of Lester’s strengths was that what he said always made sense. He had an ability to convey a simple message and to explain the game. He would explain very clearly the way he wanted us to play the game and he was able to clearly articulate the reasons why we were adopting certain strategies. Looking back on that season, I regard it as a formative period in my rugby career. I was very lucky that first year to have Michael Cook playing outside me and to have Jamie Windsor and Geoff Manteit playing halfback at various times. We had the experience of John Wells at the back playing fullback. They were all very skilled and talented players. And of course, we played behind an experienced and dominant pack of forwards which included Michael Green, Eoin O’Regan and Gerard Forde.
B&G: What are your main memories of the 1979 season?
Michael: I remember the initial thrill of being selected and receiving the jersey (that was the black jersey with the two red Vs). It was a very big thing to be playing for the Terrace First XV. I was reasonably young at the time but I was very keen to perform my role for the team. I remember being very conscious that the whole school was behind the team in its effort to win the premiership and it was really just a very exciting time to be playing rugby in such a great competition. I remember the disappointment after losing our first game against Ipswich at Tennyson, 13-11. That was a bit of a kick in the pants for the team and it served to galvanise us to work harder to achieve success. The second game against Churchie at Churchie was quite memorable. We won 27- 9. The team played exceptionally well. Michael Cook had a fantastic game and I think I got a “full house” that day, scoring every way that was possible. That was a great win and there was a real sense of satisfaction associated with the team’s performance. After the Churchie game I thought that we were going to be pretty hard to stop and that’s the way that it turned out.
B&G: 1980 is always remembered as a truly powerhouse team. That was an undefeated year. How did you approach that season and what were the highlights?
Michael: It was the start of a new decade and it was the first time that we wore the red jersey in GPS fixtures. We had previously worn a red jersey on the New Zealand tours. In 1980, they introduced the new First XV jersey which is of the style worn today. I have kept all three of my First XV jerseys and keep them in a safe place. I personally loved the old black jersey with the red Vs. I had grown up with it I guess and I had seen the likes of Mark Moore, Tony Parker, Michael Maranta, John Abbot, John Forde and Tony Byrne wearing it and I thought there was something special about that jersey. In 1980 we had a heap of guys who played in 79, who were a year older and very motivated to win again. Our captain and vice-captain were each playing their third seasons in the firsts. The captain, Damien Frawley, was a physically imposing and highly skilled forward. Our vice-captain, Michael Cook, was just a fantastic inside centre who possessed all the skills. We had a very physical and mobile pack which included Paul Facey, David Morgante and Scott McNamee and a fast and skilful set of backs which included the likes of James Windsor and Geoff Manteit (now playing at fullback) and strong runners and defenders like Alan Dick.
B&G: Do you remember the atmosphere of the big games in that season, such as the Grammar game?
Michael: I certainly remember the Grammar game. It was quite an intimidating venue and Grammar didn’t lose too often at home in those days. The Grammar supporters would fill the various tiers of the building which towered over the field. They would have their school band out in front of the building and banners and the like. I remember that the Terrace supporters (boys from the junior school up) would have to grab any vantage point they could along the sideline. We started the game well and I remember Alan Dick putting a big tackle on his opposite number which caused the ball to spill loose into Cooky’s grasp and Michael then put Laurie Robson away in the corner. I have this clear memory of watching Laurie run towards the line and just willing him to get across the line. We ended up winning 17 to 3. That was probably our must win game that year. I remember the Terrace supporters invading the field after the full time whistle. It was a fantastic feeling. It was very much a victory which the whole school shared in. That is another clear memory I have of those days, namely that the whole school seemed to lift after a big win. Whether you were a senior or a boy in grade 5 or a teacher, everyone seemed to walk back in on the Monday morning feeling a little bit prouder and walking a bit taller and that applied to everyone whether they were rugby players or not. The success had a very positive influence on the school environment I think.
B&G: Would it be fair to say that you were underdogs in 1981?
Michael: I don’ t remember it that way. I remember expecting that we were good enough to win again and because it was my last year and I was captain I was very keen to see us do well. We had a very good team in 1981 even though it was a younger side. We had a very capable, experienced forward leader in Damien Kelly. We had a number of very talented young backs like Stephen Partridge, Ian Ralph, Michael Robson and Simon O’Kane. So, I was very excited to be embarking upon my final year surrounded by quite a few young guys who were always going to give it 100%. We went through undefeated and had some really good wins. I really enjoyed playing in 1981 because it was my third year and I was very comfortable and quietly confident in my role and in the abilities of those around me. It was enjoyable to see some of the younger backs I have already mentioned flourish and develop during the year.
B&G: What are your main memories of 1981?
Michael: Well I guess the main memory is the painful end I experienced against TSS. As I have indicated, my last playing moment for Terrace was at the very same ground where I had first watched Terrace play with my father nearly ten years earlier. It is a pretty disappointing memory because of the injury and it stands in contrast to the unbridled excitement and joy I had felt at that ground as a little boy watching Terrace play for the first time. It wasn’t the way I planned to end my Terrace playing days and it wasn’t an end I remember fondly. TSS was a good side and had Tommy Lawton playing hooker and Peter Jackson playing in the backs. I had been playing well and had been involved in the lead up to our two tries. When the injury occurred, we were leading 12-9 and had a scrum on the TSS 22 metre line. We worked a move which saw me break the line and head for the tryline. I was met with cover defence by the TSS outside centre and break away and I was hit by a gang tackle but managed to off load to Ian Ralph who scored our third try for the day. As a result of the tackle I ended up with a broken collarbone. The break was in 4 places and it was some of the most intense pain I experienced in my whole career. The fact that we had scored and put the game beyond doubt was some small consolation to the realisation that my season was over. Beyond that sort of personal memory, I remember that we had very good wins against Grammar and State High. And of course it was always a thrill to beat Nudgee in any year and in any game. In the firsts we had beaten them in 1979 and 80 and in 1981 I was injured and watched the win from the sidelines.
B&G: Looking back on that era, what do you think were the main reasons for Terrace’s sustained success over 5 years?
Michael: There was a combination of factors. There were certainly year groups which included some very talented players. Some of the boys from that era went on and played for many years at club level and were selected to play at representative level. We had a coach who was very astute and who instigated programs and extremely well organised training. Lester also created an environment that was conducive to success. Every player wanted to play for the First XV and to be part of the team environment. There was an enthusiasm for rugby in that period which was infectious. I remember watching the 1977 game between Mark Moore’s Terrace side and Wally Lewis’ State High side which was effectively the grand final for the first of the five premierships. I remember where I was sitting at the ground and I remember going to school on the Monday and writing in my student diary for the day of the previous Saturday “Terrace wins the premiership and I was there!” There was an atmosphere from that point where I guess success bred success. Looking back on that time, I think that you have to acknowledge that people like Lester and Br Ryan, and at the end of the era Michael Broad, created and sustained an atmosphere which encouraged everyone to work together to achieve success. I remember that we all seemed to have a very strong sense of teamwork and the emphasis was always on the team rather than on the individual. I have very fond memories of Br Ryan and of his contribution to this era. He was the sports master and the coach of the second XV. He had coached me in the first XI for a few years. The first and second XVs always trained well together and formed a very effective squad. The desire for success was something which was shared by all of us from Lester and Br Ryan all the way down through all the members of the first and second XV teams. It was a very well formed culture based around working together to achieve success.
B&G: You were obviously a very talented cricket player having played in the first XI for 4 years by the time you finished at Terrace. What made you decide to pursue a career in rugby?
Michael: The decision was really made for me in a sense. At the end of my senior year the Australian schoolboys were embarking on a tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland. I was desperate to make that tour. The problem was I had broken my collarbone in the Southport game and the trial games for the tour were scheduled to take place 6 weeks after the Southport game. I was invited by the Australian Schools Rugby Union to play in the Australian schoolboys trial game and I was told that I wouldn’t be selected for the Australian schoolboys if I didn’t play in that trial. I didn’t have to play for the Queensland schoolboys in the carnival games but it was made clear to me that to be selected in the Australian schoolboys I would have to actually play in the trial games which followed the carnival. The week after the injury I went to see Dr Fergus Wilson who was then an orthopaedic surgeon who worked fairly closely with the QRU. I was still in considerable pain. Dr Wilson had all of my X rays and I remember he said to me something like “how badly do you want to make this tour?” I said “very badly”. The usual recovery period for my injury was a minimum of 8 weeks and so I knew that I would be pushing it. Basically Dr Wilson asked me to look out his window and relax and he then started manipulating my shoulder by yanking the broken bones back into place or trying to. I literally collapsed from the pain. He strapped my shoulder and from that point I went back to see him on a weekly basis and he would re-strap my shoulders. I ended up being able to run on for the Australian schoolboys trial game with my shoulder heavily strapped. I got through the trial and made the tour. That meant I was away for the first summer after I finished school, which was a time when all of my schoolmates and contemporaries were embarking upon their club cricket. So I missed the opportunity to play club cricket because of the Australian schoolboys tour and when I got home in late January I was selected in the full Queensland rugby squad and basically my path to rugby was pretty much decided from that point at the expense of cricket. I did not play another game of cricket from that point until I had retired from international rugby and played in some charity games in the United Kingdom.
B&G: What are your memories of playing for Queensland as an 18 year old?
Michael: I remember the first time I joined in a Queensland backline at training I was the only non-international in the line. Tony Parker was halfback (GT 1977), Michael O’Connor and Andrew Slack were the centres, Brendan Moon and Peter Grigg were the wingers and Paul Mclean was the fullback. At this time Roger Gould was still playing overseas and Paul was moved to fullback until Roger returned home. When Roger returned, Paul returned to flyhalf and I stayed in the squad on the bench. It was an amazing time. I made my debut for Queensland against Wairarapa Bush at Ballymore. Tony Shaw was the captain that day and the likes of Mark Loane and David Hillhouse were in the pack. I was the only non-international in the whole team and it was pretty daunting. To that point I had played 3 club games for University and that represented the extent of my senior experience. The game went pretty well. I remember Andrew Slack coming up to me at half time when we were comfortably in front and saying something like, “You’re going well. Stick with it and we’ll get you a try”. The second half didn’t actually go that well in the sense that we won the game but we didn’t really capitalise on our effort from the first half and I think Wairarapa Bush may have won the second half. I remember that Bob Templeton was pretty disappointed with the end result at fulltime. After that game I remember travelling down with a depleted Queensland side to play a full strength Sydney side which included the 3 Ella brothers. We got beaten fairly soundly that day. This was the centenary year of Queensland Rugby and the following week we played a World XV at Ballymore which was largely comprised of All Blacks. I remember that World XV game as being a real eye opener for me. That was really the first game in which I noticed a massive step up in physicality from what I had been used to at school and had experienced against Wairarapa Bush and even Sydney. This was the game where I really realised that I was playing almost a different game now and I had to change the way I played as a result.
B&G: What about your memories of your first Test?
Michael: It was against Fiji in Fiji in 1984 and was played in terrible conditions, something like a monsoon as I recall. The pitch was basically mud and we won 12-6. I played inside centre. I remember the excitement and being presented with my first test jersey.
B&G: You played inside centre in the 1984 Grand Slam side. Could you provide us with some thoughts about that tour?
Michael: That was a great Wallaby team and a great, fun tour. I guess having fun on tour often comes with the territory of winning. We were however a very happy team and it was a great privilege to be travelling around playing rugby for your country with such good mates. Slacky was a great captain and is a great friend. Alan Jones was the coach and he worked us very hard in training. The training was very tough and we practised and practised. This was in the amateur era but the approach of Alan Jones on that tour was very professional in nature. We would undertake detailed discussions and analysis of our opponents before the games. We ended up getting the results though and that tour in my mind really laid a strong foundation for the future success of Australian rugby. That is not to say that a great deal of work had not already been done by other people but I think that the 84 tour provided a bit of a platform for some of the future success enjoyed including the 86 Bledisloe Cup in New Zealand and then into the 91 World Cup. That team is still talked about over here in the United Kingdom because of the style of its play and the favourable impression left by the Wallabies on that tour. It is a great memory.
B&G: You have no doubt been asked a great deal of questions about the final moments of the 1991 RWC quarter final against Ireland. There is a famous photo of you lying on your back after having scored the winning try with the Irish crowd in the background. The photo is headed “Against All Odds” and is accompanied by a quote from you: “I recall feeling a huge wave of relief come over me as I crossed the tryline. I noticed the grass and thought what a beautiful sight it was”. Could you pass on some of your recollections of that frantic end to that game?
Michael: I know the photo. I remember it because of the 3 Australian faces in the crowd amongst a sea of Irish faces. The Australians are going berserk and the Irish look pretty horrified. It captures the rollercoaster ride of the rugby supporter. I guess that was the moment of my career. Not because I scored the try but because I was Captain, it was a World Cup knock out game, we were staring an early exit very much in the face. What that moment revealed to me was just how good that 91 team was. When the team needed to perform at the most pressurised moment it was able to perform. We had studied Ireland very carefully in the lead up to the game. We had worked out that Ireland’s defence had a few chinks and we had developed a move to exploit the weaknesses. We had performed the move 4 or 5 times during the game and each time it had worked. After Ireland scored their try, it was pretty much chaos for a little while. People were on the pitch and the noise was deafening. I gathered the boys in under the posts. I knew how much time was left because I had asked the referee. There was 4 minutes to go and I knew that was enough time to win the game. I didn’t want to speak negatively so I tried to speak a simple positive message. I said basically: we have got enough time, we are going to kick long from the restart and force a lineout, we will win the lineout and then we are just going to secure the ball. After the conversion attempt and before we headed back to half way I said “Just remember, if you are in any doubt about what to do just hold on to the ball and keep driving towards the goal line”. We kicked off long and the Irish halfback messed up his kick into touch. We ended up with a lineout on the 22. I called a move which involved David Campese coming in to the backline and running back towards the forwards. If it worked, Campo would score. If it didn’t work the idea was that the forwards would get to the breakdown and secure possession. When you look at the footage of that game it is amazing to see just how fantastic Campo was at that moment. He got caught in the tackle but just continued to drive forward taking the ball and the tackler with him towards the Irish line. Simon Poidevin joined in and we retained possession. At this phase, I think Tim Horan might have suggested to me to go for a drop goal. I said no to the drop goal because it would only give us a draw (I didn’t realise at the time that on a count back and according to the rules, a draw would have been good enough to see us through to the semis). I decided to call the move that we had tried a few times earlier in the game with success. The moved had been working because Jason Little had been getting around Brendan Mullen and then the Irish defence was confronted with a 2 on 1 situation pitting Jason and David Campese against the Irish winger. The move didn’t work this last time because Brendan Mullen must have decided that he had had enough of Jason getting away and he tackled Jason before he actually had received the ball. Jason received the ball and managed to pass it on to David but in this case David didn’t have the 2 on 1 situation because Jason had been tackled early. Campo ended up getting it about 10 metres out in a one on one situation whereas if the move had worked he would have had an unopposed run. That was still not a bad situation to be in though because if you had to back one player to score from that position it would have been David. As it turned out David was tackled and went to ground and popped the ball about a foot off the ground. I was there in support as I was meant to be because we had trained for this eventuality and I managed to collect the ball and make it over in the corner. It was a great team try. The execution by the team in those circumstances and under that pressure was amazing. It didn’t matter who scored the try; it was the fact that the team as a whole had been able to perform under pressure which was so memorable and remarkable.
B&G: Is that your favourite Wallaby memory?
Michael: It was certainly a great moment and a particular moment which I cherish. Having said that it is hard to go past winning the World Cup in 1991 at Twickenham and that would be closely followed by the Bledisloe win in 86 in New Zealand and the Grand Slam in 84. There was also a fantastic win against France at the SCG which followed immediately after Queensland had been thrashed the week before. I think that might have been the last test played at the SCG.
B&G: What are your feelings about Terrace today?
Michael: In a few words, it was just a fantastic school. I am sure it is an even better place today. Really and truly, I am extremely fond of the place. I guess all parents tell their children (as mine did) words like “Enjoy what you are doing because your school days are the best days of your life”. Being at Terrace was just a wonderful time in my life. I have a very clear memory of Br Buckley saying at my first assembly in 1974, “Welcome to Terrace gentlemen but remember you will only get out of this place what you are prepared to put in”. That statement really struck a chord with me and looking back in hindsight, whilst we all put a lot in at the time, Terrace certainly repaid us in spades. I made some wonderful friends for life and even though I now don’t see them as much as I would like, when we do see each other we share a unique bond. The school gave all of us so much and we have to always be very thankful for that. One of my greatest disappointments is that I haven’t yet been able to send my sons to Terrace so that they can share the same experiences I had and which their grandfather experienced. I have not given up hope though and I am still working on it.
B&G: Have you been back to Tennyson recently and paid a visit to “The Michael Lynagh Field”?
Michael: It was a really lovely honour to have the field named after me. The last time I was back in Brisbane (I think it was 3 years ago), my Mum and Dad and I took a drive out to Tennyson on a week day just to have a look around the place. It was nice to do that with Mum and Dad. That trip with Mum and Dad brought back a lot of memories for the 3 of us and I remember as we drove into Tennyson all the memories started to come flooding back. The place was a huge part of my life and it was fairly emotional to go back there after a long time away. I hope to get out there again when I am back in Brisbane in the next couple of weeks.