Vale John David Brockhoff, one of rugby union’s finest

David Lord Columnist

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John O'Neill is welcomed home by former Wallabies coach David Brockhoff. AAP Image/Sergio Dionisio

“Brock” was passionate about his rugby – and rugby revered him. David Brockhoff died yesterday, aged 83, having given a lifetime to the 15 man code that kickstarted with three years in The Scots College first XV. A rare feat.

A Life Member of the Australian and NSW Rugby Unions, he was an eight-capped Wallaby, with 26 games in the then coveted green jersey with gold, 14 caps for NSW, and 95 games for Sydney Uni, as a very loose breakaway – a “sea-guller’.

But when he became a 10 man war-of-attrition rugby coach, centres and wingers suffered pneumonia through lack of possession. They became experienced chasers.

That was the “Brock” way, and it worked a treat.

He’s rightfully been given the credit for turning Wallaby fortunes as coach.

“Brock” took over in 1974 at a time when the Wallabies had lost 26 of their last 33 internationals, with two drawn.

They were the easybeats of Test rugby.

And the renaissance started with the two-Test home series against England in 1975.

The first was at the SCG, winning 16-9 playing superb rugby. And it’s as vivid as if it happened yesterday, with “Brock”, ARU delegate Peter Falk, and myself with arms around each other’s shoulders in the shed, crying our eyes out.

The Wallabies had actually beaten England for the first time on home soil, and emotions were running high.

“The Battle of Ballymore” second Test is cemented in international rugby folklore.

Wallaby prop Stu MacDougall and hooker Peter Horton bunged on the stink to end all stinks early in the game, but it was England’s prop Mike Burton who was sent off.

To this day, it’s inconceivable MacDougall and Horton got away with it, but the disruptive ploy worked wonders.

“Brock’s” boys cruised home 30-21 to clinch the series.

The Wallabies were no longer in the international wilderness, and it was “Brock” who led the way out of the tunnel into the light.

Winning was his specialty, and he embued that “W” spirit into every team he coached, with Easts, Sydney Uni, NSW, and the Wallabies.

But that’s only part of the Dave Brockhoff story.

He was an integral member of the 1949 Wallabies that regained the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 1934 with an 11-6 win at Wellington’s Athletic Park and 16-9 at Auckland’s Eden Park.

Trevor Allan was the skipper of a team that included Roy Cawsey, Nev Emery – cricketer Phil Emery’s father – Keith Cross, Col Windon, and Nick Shehadie, with Rex Mossop on debut.

And “Brock” was the coach of the 1979 Wallabies that held aloft the coveted trophy, ending the 30-year drought at the SCG with a tryless 12-6 success in atrocious conditions.

Mark Loane was the captain, with Greg Cornelsen, Tony Shaw, Stan Pilecki, Ray Price, Chris Handy, Andy Slack, Geoff Shaw, Brendan Moon, Paul McLean, Tony Melrose, and Peter Carson on debut.

In those three decades, the Wallabies did it tough, winning only 35 internationals but losing 78 and drawing five. The All Blacks won all nine of their meetings with the Wallabies in a period where World War 2 cancelled out all rugby.

Tonight at the ANZ Stadium, the Waratahs will be wearing black armbands to salute their undisputed number one supporter – the Waratahs’ father figure.

But if the Waratahs beat the Brumbies and head off to either New Zealand or South Africa for a sudden-death finals appearance, it will be the first time a Waratah Super side won’t be farewelled at the airport by “Brock”. Or welcomed home by the same great man.

An institution.

I’ll miss his often-asked question over the last five decades of “What do you think D?”

The answer is easy.

It’s always been an honour, a privilege, and a pleasure to be a close friend of David Brockhoff, whose loyalty to those around him, on and off the rugby field, was indicative of the man. Unshakeable.

So rest in peace, “Brock”. You have done wife, Claire, sons John and Peter, and daughter Julia proud; you’ve done rugby proud; and yourself proud.

But of all the countless people who have known “Brock” over the years, the last person he would ever think of would be himself.

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