It’s been a hell of a comedown for Wallabies supporters, with the best chance of claiming the Bledisloe Cup in years swept away in no time at all as a rampant All Blacks side produced a 57-point turnaround to retain the trans-Tasman trophy.
This column is dedicated to the speedy recovery of Michael Lynagh. Here are Michael Lynagh’s 10 greatest Wallaby moments.
10. v New Zealand 1991 (first Bledisloe Test)
This was a huge game for the Wallabies. They had broken New Zealand’s incredible three-year undefeated streak in 1990, and questions were raised as to whether they could back it up.
Bob Dwyer had noticed before the game that All Black winger John Kirwan had difficulty fielding balls that he had to run backwards to and advised Lynagh to test him out during the game.
Australia was dominant, but hadn’t sealed victory yet. The ball came to Lynagh who tested Kirwan at this important time. His kick was precision-perfect, and caught Kirwan out enough that at full reach he only got his fingertips onto the ball.
The ball fortuitously bounced backwards and into the hands of Rob Egerton running through like a steam train. Egerton ran towards the line and victory was sealed.
9. v England 1984
I think this should make the list because it was Lynagh’s first try in Test rugby. Lynagh was playing inside centre and his first game for Australia. Australia got off to a nervy start against England, but came good in the second half.
The unfortunate thing about this game is that had it continued for another 10-15 minutes I think Australia would have run in two or three more tries. It seemed as soon as they got the momentum, the game was over.
But Lynagh scored a wonderful try by touching the ball twice. The constant loops and support play of the try were fantastic. Had Lynagh not been able to score, Ella was there. Lynagh supported Slack and scored on his debut.
It was your typical 1984 Wallaby Grand Slam try, with lots of looping and support. There were better tries on this tour, but this was Lynagh’s first, so it makes my list.
8. v New Zealand 1986
When did Australia know they had won the Bledisloe Cup in New Zealand?
This was one of the greatest rugby Tests I’ve ever seen. The first two Tests were dour affairs. The first Test was played in windy conditions, and many people criticised the Wallabies for beating New Zealand B. In the second Test, Australia were robbed against a full-strength side, when Steve Tuynman was denied a clear try. In a sense the ledger was squared. Neither side played too well in those first two Tests.
But this test vindicated everything. It was incredibly entertaining, and produced some of the most amazing running rugby I’ve ever seen. A highlight of this game was Mark Ella sounding exasperated on commentary, mentioning that he’d never seen such dazzling running rugby. He’d later say that New Zealand ran the ball too much – something you’d never predict.
A fascinating aspect of this Test was Franco Botica running the ball at every instant, whereas Lynagh almost never passed the ball to Brett Papwroth. But for the epidemic of dropped passes, this could have been one of New Zealand’s greatest ever wins.
Australia produced what may have been their greatest ever defensive effort, in which Lynagh played a significant role.
But there was one instant in the game that sealed it. With 10 minutes to go New Zealand were still in it, but Lynagh had a penalty kick to take. It was difficult and the pressure was on, but he slotted it over.
The penalty kick was significant because Alan Jones would later note that was the moment he knew the Wallabies would win. New Zealand had come at them with everything, and they were slowly fading away. But Lynagh made sure it was over with his steady kicking.
Of all the kicks Lynagh made in his career, that final penalty was the most important one he scored.
7. v New Zealand 1991 (World Cup semi-final)
This is one of the more forgotten Lynagh performances, perhaps because David Campese played one of his greatest ever games this day. If you watch this game, I don’t think I could recall more than two minutes where New Zealand had the ball in Australia’s half for the first 30 minutes of the game.
All possession was Australia’s. It was only in the last few minutes of the first half that New Zealand had territory.
Lynagh’s kicking was pinpoint and precise. A tremendous highlight of this game was the manner in which he constantly found Keiran Crowley out. A forgotten moment of this game was in the first half where he exposed Crowley with a cross-field kick. The ball took a bad bounce and Campese couldn’t score.
Later on, Lynagh would try a chip-kick that Crowley was slow to field. Campese fielded it and produced one of the most remarkable passes in rugby history – his famous ‘no look’ pass to Horan.
If I can get away with saying this: the game also illustrated how important Grant Fox was to New Zealand. Fox had an extremely poor game (I believe he was injured during this World Cup), which allowed Lynagh to dominate. I think without Fox, we would have seen Noddy dominate New Zealand on many more occasions.
6. v Scotland 1988
Lynagh was burnt out and had decided not to tour Europe in 1988. He had been controversially dropped for one game, the third Test of the 1988 Bledisloe Cup series, and reports surfaced of possible friction with coach Bob Dwyer. But Lynagh responded to Dwyer’s call almost immediately, and traveled to Europe for the Test against England.
Australia was performing poorly at the start of this tour, and had lost most of its provincial games against English clubs before the first Test against England. Amazingly, David Campese excelled on this tour with some of his best ever form, despite the team’s overall performance being poor. Campo always played his best in the UK.
England won a fantastic Test against Australia, which was the start of their rise toward being one of the top sides in the world. Despite this, the arrival of Lynagh galvanized the side.
Against Scotland, despite only kicking five from 11, two of his kicks resulted in David Campese tries. More importantly, after struggling early on in that tour, Australia moved on after the England test and remained undefeated for the rest of the tour. It was vital for Australia that their senior players stood up. Campese was the star of the tour, but Lynagh’s return was vital.
Andrew Slack recounts Lynagh’s performance against Scotland:
“Midway through the second half, Lynagh gathered a ball from the kick-off, executed a little jink and ran right through the Scottish pack, setting in chain a seventy-metre movement. No try resulted but an ensuing penalty, which he kicked, put Australia 28-7 ahead.
“‘When he took that kick-off’ said McGeechan, ‘I thought to myself: there he is. Welcome back to international rugby Michael Lynagh – unfortunately.’”
5. v France 1987
Australia lost this game after Serge Blanco scored a try in the dying minutes. Australia was also heavily criticised for playing running rugby against a team that was made for off-the-cuff running rugby. This is an odd criticism considering the same critics were saying Australia played boring 10-man rugby the previous year.
This is one of the better examples of Lynagh running with the ball, however. He ran the ball beautifully on many occasions. Perhaps the highlight of the game was Lynagh setting Campese up for his world record try, after a tremendous sidestep. And if I recall, Lynagh himself claimed a record in this game, but I forget what…?
Perhaps this shouldn’t be on the list. But it showed Lynagh’s ability to run the ball.
4. v France 1986
France had blitzed Queensland 48-9 prior to this test match, and there was a genuine fear the on the day, that the French backs could cut Australia to pieces.
The main threats were the French centres Charvet and Sella, and the fullback Serge Blanco. Australia had three things in their favour: Alan Jones, who played the percentages; an awesome forward pack that was perhaps the best in the world in 1986; and Michael Lynagh’s boot.
Simon Poidevin would write, ‘Even though France scored three tries to one, we kept so much pressure on them that they kept making mistakes and Lynagh just kept popping over goals. He finished with a 100 per cent score, seven from seven. With a field goal into the bargain he collected 23 points, equaling his record in a Test, this time against an International Board country.’
In many respects this was a better performance by Australia’s forwards than against Wales in 1984, considering France were the reigning Five Nations champions in 1986. However, 10-man rugby is only as effective as the five-eighth’s kicking, and Lynagh never gave the French backs a chance.
Australia was heavily criticized for playing 10-man rugby in the media after this game. One year later they were heavily criticized for being sucked into the running game during the World Cup semi-final.
3. v Scotland 1984
A common myth regarding Michael Lynagh was that his kicking was a necessary component to Australia winning the 1984 Grand Slam. This is a myth because Lynagh did not kick well against England or Ireland. His good form allowed him to remain at inside centre while Roger Gould kicked for goal against Wales.
But against Scotland Lynagh scored 21 points with some incredible penalty kicks. His kicking was reminiscent of Ollie Campbell circa 1979 against Australia, potting shots from everywhere on the field.
This was Lynagh’s breakthrough game as a kicker. Everybody who saw it knew Australia had a place-kicker for the next 10 years.
2. v Ireland 1991
This would be most people’s number one Noddy moment, but I wanted to be original. Australia were in perfect position for a drop goal. I think even if Mark Ella were playing he’d have gone for a drop goal. Certainly I’ve seen Ella go for drop goals in the dying seconds instead of running it, such as the 1983 Randwick v Gordon final, and the third Test of the 1984 Bledisloe Cup.
It’s the logical thing to do.
Nick Farr-Jones has gone on record many, many times that had he been on the field, he would have done everything differently. In fact this moment is great not only for the fact that Lynagh ran the ball, but that he told his teammates to kick off long, whereas most would have gone short and tried to secure possession.
Lynagh backed himself and it paid off, and his decision to run the ball may have inadvertently given Australia an extra impetus for the rest of the World Cup – a sense that they could turn it on when they really needed to.
The great thing about Lynagh’s try is that it is an exact replica of a Mark Ella try. The cut-two-loop play that Lynagh employed is a variation of Mark Ella ‘leaguey’ play. Ella actually maps out the exact angles of running support in his book, showing how when the ball comes to the winger, the five-eighth should be there in support. Ella writes as though this is nothing special.
Gordon Bray would later correctly note that Ella scored a similar try against Ireland in 1984 by supporting his winger and scoring in the corner. It was Campese in 1984 that Ella supported, and it was Campese in 1991 that Lynagh supported.
1. v France 1993
I willfully admit that I’ve never seen this game. This is one of my biggest regrets as a rugby fan. If anybody has a copy of this game, please give it to me. However, it’s possible that this is Lynagh’s greatest performance given the wide range of rave reviews he received.
A decision was made prior to this game to relieve Lynagh of the kicking duties to he could focus more on exploiting France’s big, strong, but slower backrow. Ironically it was Marty Roebuck was received man-of-the-match honours due to his excellent kicking.
Bob Dwyer noted of this performance that, “He played for so long with such distinction but he left me with the impression that we rarely experienced his true attacking ability in full bloom. We glimpsed it in the second Test in France in ’93 when he tore the opposition apart as Australia won 24-3. It gave us the impression he had another gear which he rarely used. Had we been able to free him of the responsibility of kicking for goal we may have seen more of his attacking genius”.
Of this performance, Mark Ella once wrote, “Against France in 1993, he ran the ball in the Test under pressure, and he did it exceptionally well. As soon as he ran the ball, he brought everybody into the game. It was great to watch, and I admired Lynagh tremendously that day.”
Lynagh’s autobiographer and former captain, Andrew Slack, once described this as perhaps his best performance ever in Australian colours.