Australian rugby legend, Michael Lynagh, talks about beach life, the pressure of playing, “sliding doors” moments and his greatest achievement.
I grew up on the beach on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane.
Back in the late sixties, the Gold Coast wasn’t full of resorts. We went surfing, fishing, swimming. It was a happy childhood. I miss the beach. Where I live now in London doesn’t lend itself to going surfing after work.
In ’74 my dad got transferred to Brisbane, and I went to a rugby school. I’d never played the game before. I was a cricketer; I loved cricket. I had a few sporting heroes growing up, but none of them were rugby union players. Greg Chappell was an Australian cricketer and a stylish batsman. He was someone who I loved to watch play, and someone I wanted to emulate.
At the age of 14 or 15, I was starting on the rugby team. I got selected on the Australia Schoolboys’ tour to the UK, Christmas ‘81 and when I got back, I was selected for the Queensland senior rugby team straight out of school.
That was it. I never played competitive cricket again. I’ve no regrets about it, but it would have been nice to see how I would have gone.
There have been a few times in my life where I had “sliding doors” moments. Like in 1996, my wife and I were going to move to Sydney, but I got offered a move to Saracens, and I still live in England to this day. I often wonder what life would have been like had we moved to Sydney; it would have taken a completely different course.
I feel the same way about choosing rugby over cricket back when I was a teenager.
I played in the amateur era, so I couldn’t say rugby was my dream job. We had professions outside the game. If I had to pick a dream job it would be a professional golfer. I mean a good one, maybe top 50 in the world. No one’s trying to tackle you and hurt you. You play the best courses all over the world. What a beautiful job.
I was very lucky with the rugby career I had. Rugby’s given me everything. Sometimes, though, it wasn’t as fun as it may have looked from the outside.
When I was a young player, I tended to be really quite serious and pensive around things; always mapping things out.
”There were times when I didn’t enjoy my rugby as much as I should have.
Before games I used to suffer quite badly from nerves. There was a lot of pressure, particularly around goal kicking. That was tough. Its one of the few times in team sport where you find yourself isolated, no one can help you, and the winning or losing of a game hinges on what you do in that moment.
What I tell my kids now when they play is to go out there and enjoy the moment. When you’re not enjoying it, you need to take some action, or find something else.
My wife is Italian, so we head out to Treviso on holidays regularly as a family. It’s somewhere I feel very comfortable; great food and wine, it’s very relaxing and probably where I’m at my happiest.
My wife and I have three great boys who seem to be quite normal, good kids. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. Parenthood’s not an easy thing with all the things that are going on around kids these days. There are more opportunities for kids to go off the rails than I had, so it’s really nice to see the boys doing well and enjoying life. Helping to raise the boys has been my greatest achievement in life.
From time to time, you’d meet someone who says, “I met your son the other day, and he’s a really good boy.” That’s a great feeling when you hear it from others.
The last few minutes of the game against Ireland in Rugby World Cup 1991 was a real turning point for us. Gordon had scored the try in the corner, and we just regrouped and said, “what do we need to do”, and off we go, and we did it. We showed that we can go up another gear if we have to.
The following week against the All Blacks in the semi-final was the big game. We knew if we won that we’d be favourites to win the tournament.
The first half of that match against the All Blacks was fantastic. It was probably the best 40 minutes of rugby that I’ve been involved in with Australia. Then we defended like our lives depended on it in the second half, it was terrific.
The final against England was more about taking the opportunity. That’s where the nerves come from. We’d beaten them by 40 points in Sydney a few months earlier, so we knew we were the better team, but you don’t want to be the ones sitting there 20 years on saying “If only”.
Thank God we didn’t miss the opportunity!
If you enjoyed Michael’s piece you might like to check out Johnny Sexton’s – “Perception Vs Reality“.
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