Rugby: Rugby loses its first gentleman

Steve Bale salutes Michael Lynagh, an Australian great who retired from the game yesterday
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The Independent Online
Michael Lynagh, first gentleman of world rugby and one of the modern game's greatest players to boot, yesterday announced his retirement with the exception of one more season in Italy with Treviso to which he is already committed. Catch him while you can.

Amid the continuing mortification of Australia's quarter-final defeat by England in the recent World Cup, the captain's departure is scarcely a surprise, although its timing - a matter of weeks before the Wallabies play New Zealand in a two-Test series for the Bledisloe Cup - most certainly is.

However, Lynagh said in Brisbane that he had made up his mind before his team had ever left for South Africa. The handsome incentive of cashing in on the imminent professionalisation of rugby union, not to mention taking his international points record of 911 into four figures, has not dissuaded him.

"There comes a point for everyone when you have to say it's time to go on with other aspects of your life," the 31-year-old outside-half said yesterday. "My priorities have changed from rugby to my work and my family. I wanted to make sure that the decision wasn't influenced by the disappointment of the World Cup campaign, and I can say that's not the reason."

Lynagh is a real-estate consultant in his native Queensland with interests in Italy, where he and his 25-year-old fiancee, Isabella Franchin, will marry in December after Isabella completes a university course. "I don't want to be known primarily as a footballer," he said. "I don't want people to forget, but rugby isn't the only thing I want to be known for."

This reflects the equability and good sense he unfailingly maintained both on and off the field - his magnanimous response as Australia's captain to the result against England in Cape Town being quintessential Lynagh - although his prodigious scoring feats will always give him a place of honour in the annals of the game.

Quite apart from his huge aggregate, Lynagh's average of 12.65 points per game - sustained over 11 years - is the more astonishing because he was not always Australia's kicker and also had fallow periods when he temporarily relinquished the responsibility to others.

He was first capped as an inside centre at the tail-end of the Mark Ella era, initially making his mark on the Wallabies' 1984 Grand Slam tour of the British Isles. Once Ella had had enough of international rugby, Lynagh became the Wallaby outside-half and went on to partner Nick Farr- Jones 47 times, a Test record.

While Lynagh, when he succeeded to the captaincy in 1993, could never claim Farr-Jones's authority or tactical acumen as a captain, together they had formed one of the all-time great half-back partnerships.

Moreover, as well as his more obvious contribution as a kicker, Lynagh had greatly undervalued running and handling skills, and yesterday Bob Dwyer, the Wallabies coach, paid this tribute: "He has done a fantastic job, not only for Australian rugby but for rugby in general."