Bold decisions needed to save Australian rugby, says Lynagh

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World Cup-winning Wallabies legend Michael Lynagh says bold decisions are required from Rugby Australia to restore success, stop rivals codes mocking rugby and save the 15-man game from “disappearing down a big sinkhole”.

Lynagh laid out his concerns for the health of rugby in Australia – and advocated for a reduction in Super Rugby teams – as the Wallabies’ first World Cup exit from the pool stages was confirmed by a Fiji losing bonus point on Monday.

Lynagh is rugby royalty in Australia after captaining the Wallabies and playing 72 Tests in a 12-year career – including the 1984 Grand Slam tour and the 1991 Rugby World Cup win.

Speaking to former England halfback Matt Dawson on a BBC rugby podcast, the London-based Lynagh said he’d been saddened by the Wallabies’ poor campaign in the 2023 Rugby World Cup but hoped it would be an overdue wake-up call for Australian rugby.

“Australia really haven’t fired a shot at this World Cup, and it’s really disappointing. I feel for the players. They’re not bad players and they’ve worked really hard but when they get out on the field it just doesn’t seem to click for them,” Lynagh said.

“I feel the way this has gone there’s going to be a few of them that might struggle to get over this experience. I hope not.”

Michael Lynagh lines up a kick.Credit: Fairfax

Lynagh said the “decline of rugby” had been underway for 10-15 years in Australia and the game requires a sharp U-turn to lifts its downward trajectory at home, where talented young footballers are choosing other codes, with NRL and AFL able to outspend the 15-man game with far bigger broadcast deals.

“We all hope that a successful Australian rugby team can carry us through and plaster over these problems, but I’m afraid this time it hasn’t. It’s time for a full stop and see what we can do going forward,” Lynagh said. “The youngsters coming through are choosing different sports which are better funded than rugby.”

Rugby Australia is using the Wallabies’ World Cup woes as a catalyst to push hard for reform in the game’s high-performance structures, aiming for a centralised model.

“We want them to be competitive, we want to have the local support behind us, the whole country behind us, as opposed to AFL and rugby league supporters laughing at us and putting us down – which is what is happening at the moment,” Lynagh said.

Tom Hooper after the Wallabies’ loss to Wales.Credit: AP

Some argue Australia needs to consider reducing its number of professional teams from five, and Lynagh said that the success of the Wallabies in his career was partly due to the team being drawn from just two states – NSW and Queensland. Lynagh has two son playing professionally – Tom plays for Queensland and Louis plays for Harlequins in England.

“Like Leinster, they play together a lot, they know each other really well, they gel together and we seem to have lost that a little bit now with having five teams in Super Rugby and competing against New Zealand and South Africa when they were in the competition,” he said.

“It’s tough and we’re not winning a lot against those teams. Having five teams has really disappeared the playing togetherness, we just don’t have the playing population to fill these teams.

“Maybe there’s going to be some tough decisions having to come up as to how we structure the whole situation in Australia and I’m afraid the results at this World Cup have shown the current system hasn’t been working for a while and it’s going to take some time for any changes to come to fruition, but something has to happen, we can’t continue this downward spiral.

“In Australia we have a federated system and states are their own little fiefdoms and they don’t like each other and don’t trust Rugby Australia.

“There’s got to be a change in how we’re doing those things. They are big, bold decisions that will not be popular but if we don’t there will be real problem in going the same way we’re going … there’s a real possibility of Australian rugby disappearing down a big sinkhole.”

Watch all the action from Rugby World Cup 2023 on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Every match streaming ad-free, live and in 4K UHD with replays, mini matches and highlights available on demand.

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