05.05.2008 – Graham Croker

Wallaby number eight David Lyons will probably not appear in Sydney University colours again after signing a reported four-year contract with the Welsh club Llanelli.

The 44-Test veteran will end his Australian Rugby Union and NSWRU contracts at the end of the Super 14 season to take up duties with the famous Welsh club.

Lyons, who has two World Cup campaigns and 101 NSW Waratah appearances to his credit, has had a remarkable career.

When he made his Wallaby debut for Australia against Argentina in June 2000 at age 19, he had played five games for NSW Waratahs and just one game at grade level for his club, Sydney University.

The rise of Lyons came about without fanfare or publicity, just the way the quiet giant from a farming family at Molong, in the central west of NSW, would want it. At 1.92cm and 118kg, he had the build and skill to let his football do the talking.

Lyons’ progress in the code was meteoric even before he came to Sydney University. He only took up the sport as a 16-year-old at Hurlstone Agricultural College, on the advice of friends.

He made the NSW Country Under-16 team in his first year in the game in 1996 and the Australian Schoolboys the following year.

When he captained the Australian Schoolboys during his last year at school in 1998, Lyons was being chased by a number of rugby league and rugby union clubs keen to gain his services.

He received a big offer from the Canberra Raiders rugby league team on his return from the schoolboy’s tour of Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, but opted to attend Wesley College at Sydney University and he was quickly signed up with the Waratah Development Academy for elite, young players. It was no surprise that Wesley – with Lyons on board – won the Rawson Cup rugby in 1999 for the first time in over 30 years, or that Sydney University won the rugby union gold medal at the 1999 Australian University Championships in Perth.

During his first year at the University, Lyons played for the Colts First XV and gained selection in the NSW and Australian Under 19 teams.

He made his NSW and Australian debuts in 2000 and established an iron-man reputation with his barnstorming displays at the back of the scrum.

From his NSW debut against the Stormers at Newlands in week one of the 2000 season, he played a record 83 consecutive Super 14 matches before injury took its toll at the end of the 2005 season.

In 2008, he became the third player to make 100 NSW Waratah appearances, the others being Chris Whitaker (118) and Matthew Burke (115).

Lyons’ record in the Wallaby jersey since taking over from Toutai Kefu is just as phenomenal. On becoming Sydney University’s 95th Australian representative when he made his debut against Argentina in 2000, he chalked up 40 caps before groin and back injuries forced him out in the latter part of the Wallabies 2005 campaign. After a prolonged lay-off, he resumed playing in the late stages on the 2006 season, helping Sydney University secure back-to-back wins in the Sydney grade competition and forcing his way on the Wallabies end-of-season European tour.

He made his return to the Australian ranks in the fourth Test of the tour, against Scotland at Murrayfield, and returned to NSW ranks for the 2007 Super 14 competition after almost 12 months on the sidelines.

An explosive ball runner and reliable defender, the affable Lyons has caused headaches for most playing nations. That was particularly the case during a stellar 2004 season that culminated in him winning the John Eales Medal as the Australian Player of the Year. Lyons had moved from blindside flanker to number eight when Kefu was injured early in the year and played 15 Tests during the season. He outpolled Loti Tuqiri, Stephen Larkham, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith and Phil Waugh for the award.

In an interview on arriving at Sydney University in 1999, Lyons said prophetically. “I know I have a lot of hard work and training ahead of me. I have a good opportunity. I haven’t set myself a goal for anything, but everyone wants to play for the Wallabies. As for first grade in club rugby this year, I guess they’ll pick me when they think I’m ready.” He was chosen for NSW before he got to play a grade game and hasn’t looked back since.

And he hasn’t lost his love of the bush. In 2006, he offered his time and expertise to assist young players from country NSW achieve their aims in rugby union.

Lyons backed a NSW Rugby Union initiative to assist young players from the country by becoming patron of a scheme that will see talented youngsters attend his alma mater Hurlstone Agricultural College.

It wasn’t that many years ago that he was one of those talented youngsters.