New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs captained the All Blacks in 16 of his 39 matches, including four of his 21 Tests from 1983 to 1986. He retired at the tender age of 26 after suffering a series of concussions.
Hobbs became a board member of the NZRU in 1995 and, after losing his seat in 1996, returned as its chairman in 2002. In that capacity, he led the team that in 2005 successfully bid for hosting rights to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He quit the high-profile position in December 2010 due to ill health.
He died yesterday at Wellington Hospital, where he was admitted last week when his health suddenly deteriorated as a result of the leukaemia, which he had battled for several years.
“It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the passing of an incredible New Zealander,” said Mike Eagle, who replaced Hobbs as NZRU chairman. “New Zealand has lost an inspirational leader with an incredible passion for the game of rugby and the part it plays in our lives.”
The International Rugby Board added it was extremely saddened by the news.
“Jock’s contribution to New Zealand rugby as a player and chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union and to world rugby as an IRB council member has been exceptional,” IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said.
Hobbs forged a reputation as a rugged and hardworking openside flanker for the famous Canterbury province before making his debut against the British and Irish Lions in the second Test of the 1983 series in Christchurch, New Zealand.
He succeed Graham Mourie in the All Blacks’ No7 jersey and, despite strong competition, established himself as New Zealand’s first choice in the position for the next three years. He first captained the All Blacks in Fiji in 1984, in the absence of regular captain Andy Dalton, and in a Test for the first time in Argentina the following year. All of his Test matches as All Blacks captain were played outwith New Zealand.
Hobbs was a member of the rebel Cavaliers team that toured South Africa in 1986 and which contained most of the players prevented by legal action from touring South Africa with the All Blacks in 1985. Hobbs was suspended for two Test matches for his role in the rebel tour and later admitted his regret at taking part.
He was a strong candidate to captain the All Blacks at the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, but a concussion earlier that season forced him into retirement.
He practised as a barrister and then pursued a successful business career that led to his appointment to the board of the New Zealand union. During his first term, he helped to head off attempts by the rebel World Rugby Corporation to contract leading New Zealand players.
With his help, New Zealand retained all of its leading players as rugby changed from an amateur to professional game.
Hobbs returned as chairman of the New Zealand union in 2002, amid fallout over the country’s failed bid to secure co-hosting rights with Australia for the 2003 World Cup.
He played a major role in putting together the bid that secured the 2011 tournament at the expense of Japan. Hobbs had resigned from the chairmanship, but was present at Eden Park when New Zealand beat France 8-7 in the World Cup final on 23 October.
Hobbs is survived by wife Nicky – the sister of former All Blacks fullback and current Australia coach Robbie Deans – and four children. Son Michael is flyhalf for the Auckland Blues Super 15 rugby team.