Nostalgia turns to concern for Lynagh teammate
On Wednesday morning, Ewen McKenzie was casting his mind back to his playing days as he looked at a team photo taken in Italy in 1988, scanning faces and flicking through a mental back catalogue of anecdotes.
When he returned home that night, the photo was still sitting on his kitchen bench but one of the men by his side as they posed for the camera 24 years ago was seriously ill in a Brisbane hospital.
News that Wallaby and Queensland great Michael Lynagh, an otherwise fit and healthy 48-year-old, had suffered a stroke sent a wave of disbelief through the rugby community but few more than McKenzie, whose spooky rendezvous on memory lane that morning only added to the gravity of the news.
Michael Lynagh and Ewen McKenzie await a bus during their Wallabies playing days. Photo: Tim Clayton
"I was about to speak at a conference. It caught me completely by surprise. I had to chase (for information) it literally before I got up and spoke so it was a bit disconcerting. It's obviously a stroke but there's degrees and detail there I'm not privy too yet," McKenzie said.
"From a rugby point of view, I've known him for a long time. Ironically, I was only looking at a team photo from 1988 – we were in the same team together in Italy. It was sitting on my kitchen bench when I got home. I was looking at it that morning.
"It's a big shock. I'm in the same age bracket (McKenzie is 46). When these things happen to people you know really well, it's not a good thing. Again, I don't know the background but hopefully he recovers well.
"There's lots of those memories come back. You start thinking about that. You take some of those memories for granted. When misfortune strikes, those things come back. (But) it sounds positive at the moment. Hopefully he will recover well."
The 1991 World Cup-winning five-eighth was known as someone who remained in superb condition even when his rugby career ended in 1998. He finished his playing days with Saracens and remained in the UK, where he appears as a commentator with Sky Sports.
He had returned to Brisbane from his London base for a school reunion and was admitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital on Monday after experiencing spells of dizziness.
"He's always been a fit guy. I don't know the detail behind it but it's a wake-up call for everyone really. He's a guy who looks after himself very well. Always has. It's a big surprise," McKenzie said.
There was great concern for Lynagh as the news went viral on social media on Wednesday night but some more positive news emerged throughout the day yesterday.
He remained in intensive care but was moving, walking and talking, although it was suggested he had lost some or all vision in his left eye as a side-effect of stroke. Doctors are still conducting tests and he had an MRI scan yesterday morning as part of the search for the cause of the illness.
The Lynagh family has requested details of his health stay private but a hospital spokesperson confirmed late yesterday that his condition remained stable.
Lynagh was an inspiring and understated leader who played 72 Tests for his country. He is best remembered for scoring the winning try in the 1991 World Cup quarter-final against Ireland, before helping Australia go on to win the final against England.
"I played a lot of Test football with him. He's a quiet guy but one of those guys who commanded respect through performance. There are obviously some big moments there, the quarter-final against Ireland in 1991," McKenzie said.
"He was the captain that day. He was fairly inspirational finishing that game off for us and got us into the final, which we won."
Reds captain James Horwill, who plays for Lynagh's former club University, wished Lynagh a swift recovery.
"It was a big shock to me when I heard on twitter last night. Our thoughts go out to his family and him. Hopefully he can make a full recovery," Horwill said.
"He's been a great servant to Australian rugby, Queensland rugby and the University of Queensland, my club.
"We wish him all the best from everyone here at the Reds and hopefully he makes a full recovery very soon."