Jock Hobbs: A man for a crisis and a pizza

01:25, Mar 18 2012
Jock Hobbs

I've still got a mental picture of Jock Hobbs wandering around Samoan capital Apia in a lava-lava. It's a long way from enduring images of him in an All Blacks jersey, or a black suit emblazoned with the New Zealand Rugby Union logo.

But it's a fond memory of someone I will miss, as every rugby follower in New Zealand will also after his untimely death last week.

I didn't know too much about Jock as a player, other than the respect that comes with him not only wearing the black jersey and silver fern but also captaining the All Blacks.

I first met him in the early 1990s when I was part of a New Zealand Universities Sevens team he was coaching at a tournament in Samoa.

It's fair to say that Jock will go down in history as one of the worst Sevens coaches. He tended to choose players with tight-five experience, but more particularly for their university experience and social expertise. We might not have done much on the footy field, but it certainly was a winning formula at the after-matches.

New Zealand's ability to hold pride of place in the clubrooms seemed to be more about the respect the opposition and locals had for Jock than anything about our performance.

If that's a lighter side to the man, we shouldn't forget his serious nature and dedication that were so crucial to the standing the game continues to enjoy in our country.

My next encounter with Jock was in late 1995 in the aftermath of the World Cup, when rugby was being catapulted into the professional ranks through a player revolt linked to the World Rugby Corporation.

There was so much information and misinformation swirling around at the time, and as a young provincial player with Otago it was very confusing - and very tempting.

We'd heard the All Blacks had jumped ship and the WRC contracts being put in front of us were colossal, certainly in the eyes of a student.

So, who turns up to give us the other side of the equation? Jock, of course, wearing his NZRU colours. And he came with no spin.

He eyeballed about 20 of us and told us how it was. Basically, that remaining loyal was the only option.

Yes, we could go the other way, but the All Blacks and New Zealand teams would continue in the future  without us.

Jock knew how rugby players worked. He knew we had the attention spans of goldfish so he got through his talk quickly and efficiently.

And when there was a knock on the door and the pizza delivery guy walked in with his arms full. Well, we were as good as convinced that Jock was the man to sign with.

To my memory, he cleverly got the provincial players on board to secure the base of our game, and the All Blacks followed suit.

Jock will be rightly remembered as our best administrator and a great man for a crisis. He had the mana that comes with being an All Blacks captain, he had a commercial brain, and he was a straight-shooter.

But he was extremely parochial to New Zealand rugby and the country in general.

He did a great job tidying up the mess after we lost the 2003 World Cup co-hosting rights, and an even better one in securing the sole right to host last year's tournament, which was a huge success, capped by an All Blacks' victory.

No one expected New Zealand to succeed in getting the tournament in the first place, least of all the Australians, who had backed the Japanese bid.

I liked the way New Zealand reacted to that. Under Jock's leadership, they made it clear that loyalty was paramount in our trans-Tasman relationship, and there's no doubt the Australians had to work hard to earn back their stripes.

But that's how Jock was. He told it how it was.

You can't help but feel that on the international stage New Zealand has sometimes been the victim of some swift manoeuvres. But that didn't happen on Jock's watch. That's a mark of the respect he enjoyed.

Rugby will miss him but, more importantly, we all will.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain.


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