Lynagh enrolls for Saracens

Mike Rowbottom sees the great rugby union stand-off sign for a spell in London

Mike Rowbottom
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:49
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In his jacket and tie, Michael Lynagh looked as composed as the Great Gatsby yesterday as news of his forthcoming move to Saracens RFC was announced to a media scrum that degenerated into a rolling maul.

Confirmation that the record-breaking former Australian stand-off will join the north London club next season on a three-year contract invited a dazed speculation over transfers which might match its impact in other sports - Franco Baresi to Wimbledon, perhaps, or Michael Jordan to the London Towers...

But Saracens, for all that they are clinging uncertainly to their First Division status at the moment, have an ambition to become one of the foremost European clubs of the new professional era. That dream is given substance by the financial backing of their owner, Nigel Wray, a millionaire property dealer without whom Lynagh - whose legendary kicking helped him to a world individual points record of 911 in 73 matches for his country - would have remained the stuff of fantasy.

Only once did Lynagh, who retired from international rugby after last year's World Cup, appear flustered - when someone asked what his outspoken old mate David Campese would make of him throwing in his lot with the Poms.

"Oh well," he said, his mind momentarily scrambling. "I hope I'm not a constipated bull anyway." Campese, who is coming to this country next week with New South Wales, may or may not be kinder to his old stand-off than he was to Will Carling.

However, at 32, Lynagh is well able to withstand the bluster of Campo and any other Aussie who might want to have a go. Having played club rugby in Italy for the past five years with Treviso, he has thought out his next move carefully since Saracens - and two other English clubs - contacted him in October. When he moves, it will be with his girlfriend, Isabella, whom he plans to marry once she has completed her degree in economics at Venice University.

"I'm not a person who jumps around all over the place," he said. "I have only had two previous clubs, in Queensland and Treviso. The decision to move to London is one I have not taken lightly."

He chose to play, and coach, at Saracens, having been won over by lengthy discussions with Wray. "We talked about sitting down after five, 10 years' time and saying 'It was good to be a part of that'," Lynagh said. "I'm physically OK, and I'm playing all right. Retiring from international rugby was a great weight off my shoulders."

The exact timing of his arrival on the pitch depends upon the Rugby Football Union's special general meeting this Sunday. Although foreign players currently need 180 days' residence before they can play for English clubs, those with European Community qualification need only spend a week here. Saracens are hoping that Lynagh's Italian connection, not to mention his Irish grandmother and Scottish grandfather, will be pertinent.

In the meantime, Saracens, who plan to be playing in a new venue by September, are negotiating with Philippe Sella. They have also signed Robert Howley, the Bridgend scrum-half, and plan to secure the Irish flanker Eddie Halvey.

Lynagh's new deal is likely to bring him well above six figures. He isn't saying. But Lynagh's career prospects have clearly come into the equation, and we are not talking here about a job in the back office and all the beer he can handle.

"I have a property background in Australia," he said, "and Nigel's company just happens to deal in property, so some opportunities may present themselves there."

Not everything was sorted, however. "I'm looking forward to someone doing something about the weather," Lynagh said with a smile. Now that is something even Nigel Wray may find difficult to fix.

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