New Zealand's greatest rugby player has hailed Jock Hobbs as one of the country's greatest sports administrators, after the former All Black captain died today in Wellington Hospital, aged 52.
Hobbs was a great player and an excellent captain, but it was in administration that he "was the best'', legendary All Black Sir Colin "Pinetree'' Meads said.
"Jock was one of the greatest administrators New Zealand ever had. He saved the game.''
Meads had no doubt New Zealand had Hobbs to thank for doing the ground work to ensure New Zealand hosted last year's World Cup.
Meads, former All Black captain Tana Umaga and then-Prime Minister Helen Clark were part of a delegation formed by Hobbs that secured the cup, in Dublin in 2005.
"We've got him to thank for that, most definitely,'' Meads said.
Clark added her wishes on Twitter from New York, where she now works.
"Saddened to hear news of death of #JockHobbs, outstanding #NewZealander instrumental in bringing #RWC2011 to NZ. RIP Jock.''
The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) announced the death today, on behalf of the Hobbs family.
"Our family would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support we have received over the last week and in particular, express our gratitude to all the staff at Wellington Hospital that were involved in Jock's care," the statement said.
Hobbs had rugby flowing through his veins. He was an All Black captain, then off-the-field helped stop the All Blacks becoming a rebel professional team in the mid-1990s, and a decade later secured the World Cup.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said his death was sad news for rugby and for New Zealand.
He could not think of anyone who had done more for New Zealand rugby.
"He's been needed a couple of times and when he's been needed he's stood up and he's delivered.''
Tew visited Hobbs in hospital last week.
"At that stage he wasn't conscious, but I was able to say my goodbyes and that was a great privilege."
It was a positive that Hobbs had lived to see New Zealand win the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Tew said.
NZRU chairman Mike Eagle said it was with a "heavy heart" that he acknowledged the death of "an incredible New Zealander".
"Our hearts and love go out to Jock’s wife Nicky, his children Emily, Michael, Penny and Isabelle, as well as his wider family.
"New Zealand has lost an inspirational leader with an incredible passion for the game of rugby and the part it plays in our lives.''
And All Blacks from another generation paid tribute, using social media networks.
"RIP Jock Hobbs.. A Great man and legend for all he did for NZ rugby," winger Cory Jane tweeted.
Super Rugby organisers Sanzar also tweeted "Sanzar's thoughts are with the Hobbs family, as former All Blacks captain and NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs has passed...''.
Prime Minister John Key said Hobbs' "finest hour" was probably when he convinced the International Rugby Board (IRB) that New Zealand should host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
"Jock was a man whose determination drove him to many successes in his life. It was that determination that saw him wage war against his illness for a prolonged period.''
Minister for Sport and Recreation Murray McCully added his tributes, saying he had made an unparalleled contribution to New Zealand rugby.
"Jock Hobbs was one of nature's gentlemen. He was an outstanding sportsman, one of our greatest sporting administrators, a passionate New Zealander and a thoroughly decent human being," McCully said.
"Had it not been for the roles that Jock played at a critical time, that professional rugby would not be the sport it is today.
Labour Party leader David Shearer said Hobbs was a "tremendous Kiwi who dedicated his life to our national sport".
“He was an inspiration to all Kiwis not only for his amazing achievements as a top sportsman and administrator, but also for the courage he showed while battling his illness."
Labour MP Trevor Mallard said Hobbs was "the best man I know" while others said Hobbs couldn't be thanked enough for all he had done for New Zealand.
Hobbs' brother-in-law Robbie Deans could not be reached. He was on promotional business in Coffs Harbour and a spokesman said the family had issued a statement and he would not be adding to it.
Deans was expecting to be at Hobbs' funeral.
Australian Rugby Union managing director and chief executive John O’Neill said rugby had lost one of the great gentlemen of the game.
“Jock was a tremendously proud New Zealander who had an amazing passion for rugby and was a great friend and ally of Australian Rugby Union,” O’Neill said.
“In 2002 when he returned as chairman of NZRU he was highly instrumental in restoring a good constructive relationship with ARU. He will be greatly missed.
“ARU and the whole Australian Rugby community extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Nicky and his children, his extended family and the broader Rugby community in New Zealand.”
HOBBS A FIGHTER, SAYS MCCAW
Hobbs was first diagnosed with a type of leukaemia in 2006 and just over five months ago, his head bald and his face puffy from his medical treatment, touched the nation with his courage in walking onto Auckland's Eden Park to present All Black captain Richie McCaw with a silver cap to mark his 100th test, after New Zealand beat France 37-17 early in the World Cup campaign.
''I've got a huge amount of respect for that fella,'' said McCaw that night. ''He's been through a tough time, but he's a fighter and he's largely responsible for why the tournament's here. To have him here today was something pretty special.''
Hobbs also presented fullback Mils Muliaina with a silver cap when he secured his century of games during the tournament, and was a regular fixture in the All Blacks' dressing room before the side paid him the ultimate tribute, beating France in the final 8-7 on October 23.
A night later, he was presented with the Vernon Pugh award for distinguished service to rugby, at the International Rugby Board (IRB) awards in Auckland.
''The Rugby World Cup has engaged, galvanised, brought together the country in what has been a pretty tough 12 months,'' he told the ceremony. He had strong ties to Christchurch, which was hammered by a devastating earthquake on February 22, 2011.
'THE MAN WHO SAVED RUGBY'
Michael James Bowie Hobbs was born in Christchurch on February 15, 1960. He played in the Christ's College first XV and made his provincial debut in 1981.
Even though he made his mark as a leader, for most of his provincial career with Canterbury he was rarely the captain. When Canterbury held the Ranfurly Shield from 1982 to 1985, Don Hayes was captain, though that era was the making of Hobbs, who was a combative and tireless open-side flanker.
He made his test debut in 1983 against the British and Irish Lions and played 21 tests for the All Blacks, becoming captain on the short tour of Fiji in 1984 and leading the side on a tour of Argentina a year later.
He went to South Africa with the rebel Cavaliers in 1986, a tour he later regretted making, but a succession of concussions scuppered his chances of playing in the inaugural World Cup in New Zealand in 1987. He retired before the tournament.
A lawyer, he then devoted his energies to his family and career, but his links to rugby remained and he became a New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) councillor in 1995, emerging as a crucial figure in defusing the rift that had developed between players and the NZRU when rugby went professional.
The defection of New Zealand's top players to the Kerry Packer-backed World Rugby Corporation was considered a done deal until Hobbs, still a fledgling administrator, worked around the clock for six weeks to secure the key players' signatures for the NZRU.
He was lauded as ''the man who saved rugby'' after persuading All Blacks poised to join a breakaway professional circus to return to the NZRU fold, the New Zealand Press Association reported. He was involved in negotiations to finance the new professional game that emerged, but was dumped from the NZRU council the following year, when it trimmed its number of council seats.
After the debacle surrounding New Zealand's loss of the sub-hosting rights for the 2003 World Cup, Hobbs' services were again called up.
He was installed as board chairman in 2002 to rebuild the NZRU's reputation and his crowning rugby achievement was in 2005, when he piloted New Zealand's successful bid to host the 2011 World Cup.
He headed to Dublin with then-prime minister Helen Clark and a negotiation team that included rugby greats Sir Colin Meads and Tana Umaga.
When New Zealand emerged from the IRB Council meeting with the 2011 World Cup hosting rights, the impression gained by those present was that Hobbs' negotiation skills had won the day.
It was the year he was first told he had leukaemia, but initially it was mostly dormant. In May 2010 he was diagnosed with a more severe form and was told he would need six months of chemotherapy.
In December 2010, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma which required more aggressive treatment over an extended period, and opted to resign from the NZRU and Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd boards to focus on his health.
He was also a director Strategic Finance, which was placed in receivership in March 2010. The Financial Markets Authority is investigating the company records.
As he battled illness in Wellington Hospital in 2010, he told the Sunday Star-Times ''There are a lot of sick people and to be amongst them is a very humbling experience.
''But again, it is an experience that can be turned into a positive. You can learn a lot about yourself in those settings and take stock about what your priorities are in life.''
News filtered through on Thursday that Hobbs was critically ill in Wellington Hospital.
His son Michael, a Super Rugby first five-eighth for the Blues, returned from their campaign in South Africa to be with the family.
Hobbs, a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM), is survived by his wife Nicky, a sister of former All Blacks fullback and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, and children Michael, Emily, Penny and Isabelle.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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