Rugby Union: The loss of Lynagh's art faced with heavy hearts

Tim Glover sees a great Australian's kicking inflict another cup final defeat on Wasps
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The Independent Online
IT IS not surprising that Saracens attempted to move heaven and earth in an effort to persuade Michael Lynagh to stay at the club. "I hope I never see him on the field again," Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, said after the Tetley's Bitter Cup final. It was meant in the nicest possible way.

Melville, a former England scrum-half, knows a great stand- off when he sees one. So does Nigel Wray, the Saracens owner. When Lynagh decided that this would be his last season, Wray and his family tried everything to change his mind.

The Australian's contribution to the rebirth of Saracens cannot be overstated. The world's leading point scorer kicked a penalty in the final minute to beat Leicester 14-13 back in January for a place in the quarter-finals. Should Saracens, who have one match left in the Premiership, at home to Northampton, win the league, Lynagh's drop goal in the dying seconds to beat Newcastle a couple of weeks ago will also be regarded as priceless.

On Saturday, Lynagh's kicking, whether at goal, to touch or with the deftest of touches to create a try for Steve Ravenscroft, was world class.

Alain Penaud, the Frenchman who has already been signed to replace Lynagh, was at Twickenham and he will appreciate what a difficult act he has to follow.

After a dismal final between Leicester and Sale 12 months ago, it was important for English rugby to lay on a grandstand spectacle. On the sort of day for which the Fez was invented, there were nine tries, seven of them to Saracens who had the Tetley's Bitter Cup on ice by half-time when they led 29-6 in what had been a hugely impressive 40 minutes.

Chris White, a young referee in charge of his first big game, also played a part and his interpretation of the advantage law, in particular, was refreshing. The 34-year-old Cheltenham teacher has a bright future.

Wasps, who had finally shown signs of form in recent weeks after an anonymous defence of the championship, gambled on an inexperienced back row that was designed to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Lynagh. In the event, Paul Volley hardly laid a hand on the Australian. In contrast, Francois Pienaar roughed up Alex King on a couple of occasions.

It was also Simon Shaw's task to do a job on Kyran Bracken and although the lock made his presence felt, he failed to subdue the England scrum- half.

Wasps sprang another surprise by choosing Laurence Scrace ahead of Paul Sampson. At least Sampson's pace might have prevented Ryan Constable's try. However, in the overall scheme of things Wasps were ill-equipped to avoid the cruel record of losing a fourth cup final in four appearances.

Philippe Sella, another in tune on his swan-song, said he would return next season to watch Saracens, and Penaud, play. Sella referred to the "family spirit" within the club which was typified on Saturday evening. Saracens celebrated at Twickenham but that was a mere aperitif. They had a party at Vicarage Road before moving on to a nightclub in Enfield. Yesterday they had a barbecue at their old ground at Southgate. "We visited all our spiritual homes," Mark Evans, the director of rugby said.

The only absentee was Brendon Daniel who flew home to New Zealand after the match to attend the funeral of his father who died on Thursday. It was not noticeable that Saracens wore black armbands.

With Pienaar half-way through a three-year contract, Saracens are already looking ahead. "We don't want this to be a temporary success story," Evans said. "The next stage is to take club rugby to a new level. With more and more teams getting their act together it is not going to be easy."