Rugby Union: Lynagh may not be kicker

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AUSTRALIA are steeling themselves for the unthinkable: to go into tomorrow's Test against Ireland at Lansdowne Road with Michael Lynagh, the scorer of more international points than anyone else in rugby history, as merely the back-up kicker.

Lynagh said last night that the final decision would be taken today. 'I may or I may not,' he noted enigmatically. But with Marty Roebuck having taken on the kicking now that Lynagh has succeeded Nick Farr-Jones as captain, it is the full-back rather than the stand-off who will almost certainly do the job.

Lynagh's record is its own evidence of how staggering this change is. His 760 points in 59 Tests since he made his Wallabies debut in 1984 is far and away the best total there has ever been, and with his stated intention being to lead Australia into the 1995 World Cup there seemed no reason why he should not comfortably exceed 1,000.

But that ambition is at least temporarily in abeyance as Lynagh, 29 last Sunday, concentrates on making a success of captaincy - the corollary of which is that he concentrates on aspects of his game which have seldom been maximised.

'When you've got the goal- kicking, you are running and tackling one minute and lining-up a kick the next,' he said. 'What you have to do is bring yourself down to a lower level of arousal, because it is a fine-tuned skill. That's not easy to do. It's like asking Greg Norman to run 400 metres and then sink a 10-foot putt.'

Relieved of this critical responsibility, he produced a two-try performance of great authority in the tour opener in Dublin a fortnight ago. 'In the Leinster game I was able to play a more aggressive style because at no stage did I have to bring that level of arousal down.'

Roebuck has scarcely enjoyed overwhelming success with the boot - five from 10 against Leinster and five from eight against Ulster - but even so things have changed so much that yesterday at Trinity College was only the second time since reaching Ireland that Lynagh has bothered to practise his kicking.

Whether or not he had been captain, a break would probably have been in order. Beginning with the 6-3 defeat by New Zealand in Auckland 14 months ago, when he landed one from seven, Lynagh's success rate was 48 from 100 in 13 Tests, an unimaginably poor return by his exalted standard. Most recently, it was four from 10 in the thrashing of South Africa.

And now, a therapeutic chat with his coach having persuaded him, it is like a burden lifted. 'He is playing well,' Bob Dwyer, as sharp a rugby psychologist as there is, enthused. 'It's difficult to say what has helped his game but that was one of the aims: to make sure he gave full expression to his ability as a runner and ball-handler.

'I think that by and large he hadn't done that. He is a much better football player than he has evidenced in terms of running and handling. It would be a shame if he went through the whole of his career and not let everyone know just how good he can be in that part of the game.'

The Wallabies were watched by hundreds of students when they trained at Trinity yesterday. Although they have been known occasionally to have private sessions, there would never be any question of a three-day pre-Test purdah such as the Springboks have been imposing on themselves during their tour of France.

It is easy to lapse into cheer- leading mode with these tourists, but equally it would be hard to exaggerate their popularity here with each day bringing a new public-relations triumph.

No wonder the Irish love them, and would do so even more if they contrived to lose to Ireland tomorrow. The Irish forwards Nick Popplewell and Phil Lawlor, recovering from heel and ankle injuries respectively, trained unimpaired yesterday. As Noel Murphy, the manager, said: 'Everything is perfect.'