Jock Hobbs was the man who saved rugby. That’s the best way to think of him. He had been a good openside flanker in the 1980s, winning 21 test caps and even captaining the side on occasion.
He could play. He was brave and astute, but he was forced to call it quits earlier than he wanted because of repeated concussions.
Forced out of the game before his time, he devoted himself to establishing his legal career, which took him back into rugby circles because as a former player and lawyer, Hobbs became the perfect man to deal with the crises which brewed towards the end of the 1995 World Cup.
Australian media mogul Kerry Packer was trying to set up his rebel World Rugby Corporation and, by the last week of the World Cup, it looked like he was going to succeed.
Many of the All Blacks and their counterparts from the other leading nations had signed. They liked the pay packets on o er and while the concept didn’t thrill them, the prospect of finally being paid did.
So Hobbs was given the brief to win the players back. It took diplomacy and tact to persuade the players to come back from the brink. And there is no way the players would have even talked to Hobbs if they hadn’t deeply respected him.
They knew he was one of them. They knew he had bled for the jersey and that he wasn’t just some suit trying to talk them round. He made an impassioned case that hit home and minds were changed.
Hobbs saved rugby and then, in 2005, he had a huge role in helping New Zealand win the 2011 World Cup hosting rights.
It was Hobbs, along with NZR chief executive Chris Moller, who masterminded the bid strategy.
Instead of running a major PR campaign to win over media, they flew around the world for the better part of two years to strengthen their relationships with World Rugby voting members.
It was the harder road to take but worthwhile and by November 2005, the key delegates felt nothing but warmth and a ection for New Zealand’s bid because they had come to like and trust Hobbs.
It was a clever play by a clever man. Perhaps the most poignant moment to confirm the standing of Hobbs came at the 2011 World Cup.
Sadly Hobbs was seriously ill by the time the tournament kicked o but he made it to Eden Park on the night Richie McCaw won his 100th cap and he made the after match presentation to the All Blacks skipper.
The unflappable McCaw was visibly moved by the presence of Hobbs who was clearly battling physically. “I’ve got a huge amount of respect for that fella,” McCaw said that night, with his voice thick with emotion. “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 died in March 2012 but his legacy lives on with an Under 19 annual tournament having been named after him.
DEEP RESPECT Jock Hobbs was admired and respected around the world.