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FEATURE Long-term solution at 10 for Australia could be chip off old block

Long-term solution at 10 for Australia could be chip off old block
1 year ago

The freshly-dubbed “Tommy Turbo” will take the biggest step of his formative career when the Lynagh name is once again at No 10 for the Queensland Reds this weekend.

The rise of Tom Lynagh to the fringe of Super Rugby Pacific selection is a son of a gun tale to warm the hearts of all with a love of rugby history.

The blond-haired son of 1991 Rugby World Cup-winner Michael Lynagh has largely been working away under the radar in Queensland for the past 17 months. His progress will be rewarded on Saturday night in the country town of Narrabri. He’ll share the time at No 10 with Lawson Creighton against the NSW Waratahs now that Wallaby James O’Connor has decided to rest his ankle for one more week. It is the biggest pre-season trial before Super Rugby kicks-off on February 24.

Lynagh is still just 19 and searching for a sun tan but he’s no longer the slim English schoolboy from Epsom College who first landed on Australian shores in September 2021. His three-way rugby passport gives him rights to play for Australia, England or his birth nation of Italy yet the dream for him has always been Australia. Brisbane is where he has made his home and where his new rugby tribe is doing the best it can to sandpaper some of the smoothness from his English accent.

Lynagh’s name is not on the checklist of prospective flyhalves for new Wallabies coach Eddie Jones in 2023 but he definitely will be for 2027 when the tournament is hosted in Australia.

Tom Lynagh in training with the Reds. (Photo by Brendan Hertel/ QRU)

Ben Donaldson and Tane Edmed are the young Waratahs No 10s that Jones will scrutinise from the crowd in Narrabri because both potentially have a part to play for the Wallabies this season. But wouldn’t it be something if ‘T Lynagh’ made an impression and was jotted down in his notebook for future reference?

Of course, wise old heads Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley and James O’Connor are in the reckoning as gold No 10s as well. Cooper, on the way back from major Achilles surgery, is the frontrunner but Jones has always had a bit of Captain Cook about him, trying to discover the next big thing.

There’s an unmistakable polish to the Lynagh game. It’s made more marked by his excellent kicking game in a country where too few, even at Super Rugby level, kick above an average standard. That’s kicking from hand, not just goalkicking although he also slotted two conversions from the sideline during his extended trial time off the bench against the Western Force last weekend in a 45-10 victory.

Mick Heenan is the new Reds assistant coach after a record six club premierships with the University of Queensland where former Bristol Bear Luke Morahan and Northampton’s Angus Scott-Young learnt the game. Heenan kept a close eye on Lynagh last year and gave him three cameos off the bench in first grade while he was also busy winning the Colts (Under 20s) title with UQ.

Those with long memories will remember the silky moves of Lynagh senior during a decorated 72-Test career.

“Tom is a classic flyhalf and there aren’t a lot around,” Heenan said.

“He has a fantastic all-round skillset. His kicking is wonderful, he’s actually sneaky quick, his organisational skills are getting better and other parts of his game are developing too.

“Most of all, he was a young body straight out of school rugby with modified rules when he joined his first professional program in Queensland. It takes time for the body to handle the physical load. The key for him has been being able to train consistently this pre-season and you can see the benefits in him handling the demands.”

He plays at around 83kg so he’s a good 12kg lighter than the frame that brother Louis throws into the heavy contact at Harlequins.

Those with long memories will remember the silky moves of Lynagh senior during a decorated 72-Test career, including the famous try that sunk the Irish in the epic 1991 World Cup quarter-final at Lansdowne Road.

He made his own debut for Queensland as an 18-year-old flyhalf with a short-back-and-sides haircut in 1982.

Michael Lynagh played over 70 matches for Australia over a career spanning more than a decade. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

Apologies to dad but it wasn’t reading a history book that confirmed to young Lynagh that Australia should be his first choice. It was something far more modern.

He was an impressionable 12-year-old in England when the Wallabies had a golden run at the 2015 World Cup, knocking off England and Wales in pool play and making it all the way to the final.

“During the 2015 World Cup, I was watching the Wallabies. I actually went to the final even though it didn’t work out in the end,” Lynagh explains.

With Foley and Kurtley Beale running that classic interchange of passes to torch England with a key try at Twickenham, Lynagh loved watching that creativity.

“I’ve always dreamt about playing for Australia. I just like the brand of rugby they play down here.”

You haven’t really started the climb in Australian sport unless you pick up a nickname.

He’s building the attacking side to his game, running a close loop off his centre for a try in an off-season friendly, running the ball back in counter-attack and looking at his passing and short kicking options.

You haven’t really started the climb in Australian sport unless you pick up a nickname. His is not in the league of former Wallaby Scott “Sexual” Fava but it has stuck just the same.

Team-mates gave him “Tommy Turbo” as a direct pinch from the nickname of Australian rugby league ace Tom Trbojevic. It might also have something to do with Lynagh not quite having the same build as the rugby league model who is 16cm taller and 19kg heavier.

The fascinating early season vibes in Australia will be just who fits the Jones jigsaw when it comes to team selection for the Wallabies. Players who were “in” during the Dave Rennie era may not be so guaranteed of a spot while others on the outer might get a chance to come in from the cold.

Jones’ historic bent for picking rugby league stars and sharpening them as rugby weapons is well established. Just think Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri in the 2003 World Cup final against England.

Lote Tuqiri successfully converted from rugby league to play a major role in the Wallabies’ successes in the early 2000s. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

He is already on record as saying there won’t be any new rugby league players signed in time to be useful in France in September but that won’t stop him trying to find the key to unlocking the capabilities of convert Suliasi Vunivalu, the imposing 1.92m Fijian winger who has been underwhelming in his 2021-22 seasons.

To date, Vunivalu has played just a few minutes of Test rugby against England at the SCG in 2022. Hunting harder for the ball and going flat-out fast more often are two areas Jones has already identified. Two working hamstrings will hopefully enable “Suli” to do just that.

Halfbacks? Jones loves a runner. He loves a halfback who takes on the tight forwards to create space for his No 10 to play.

That instantly elevates Queensland’s Tate McDermott although feisty, big-kicking ultra-competitors, who can dart, like Nic White also fit the bill.

McDermott and Waratahs No 9 Jake Gordon will duel in front of Jones in Narrabri. Both were used as backup Test halfbacks behind White last year.

The first of the jockeying for World Cup spots is underway. In amongst it all, there will be pointers for 2027 as well. The progress of Lynagh Edition II is going to make for interesting viewing.


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