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Greatest XV: 'Big imposing bear you wanted to be around'- Dan Vickerman was the 'hardest worker' on and off the field

4th September, 2023
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4th September, 2023
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The extraordinary thing about Dan Vickerman is that the South Africa-born lock left Australian rugby at the peak of his powers to study at Cambridge and returned a few years later and made a third World Cup.

That says plenty about Vickerman’s prowess as a player because few people can pack their bags, open their laptops and books and settle down to work for a couple of years of study before swapping their studies for boots to play on the world’s stage.

The Roar is counting down the Wallabies’ Greatest World Cup XV of all time from No. 15-1 with thanks to thousands of votes from our readers.

But the serious and diligent nature of Vickerman off the pitch was reflected by the way he took to rugby – and succeeded in the game, too.

This was a man who hit rucks and decoded lineouts because of his intelligence and understanding of what second-row play was all about.

“Hardest worker I’ve ever met in rugby,” 2011 Rugby World Cup teammate Nick Phipps told The Roar when asked about Vickerman.

“Trained his arse off and more so away from training. Always doing extras.

“He was such a big human being too and used to genuinely hurt people.”

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But there were a couple of sides to Vickerman; the player on the field and the one off it.

Dan Vickerman, Australia, during the teams national anthems before the South Africa V Australia Quarter Final match at the IRB Rugby World Cup tournament. Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, 9th October 2011. Photo Tim Clayton (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Dan Vickerman. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Phipps, who played at two World Cups, including his first in 2011 as a player fresh from his first full season in Super Rugby, said that Vickerman was respected for more than his deeds on the rugby field.

“Vicks [was] one of the greats. Genuine,” he said.

“I was 20 years old and he always went out of his way to make sure I was all good. We got on really really well and he taught me a lot.

“[He was a] very gentle man around the place. The driest sense of humour ever but my God he was funny. Everyone really enjoyed spending time with him.”

At the other end of the coin was Matt Cockbain, who was already a World Cup winner when Vickerman arrived in Canberra and won a Super Rugby title in his first season in 2001.

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Both forwards saddled up alongside one another at the 2003 World Cup, with Cockbain at the end of his playing career and Vickerman just at the start.

“I remember him coming in with that young energy and excited, but he was also, not moody, but we used to joke about Vicks having a real stern edge to him,” Cockbain reflected.

“But he had a comedic streak to his character. He was dry and very funny at times.

“In terms of training, he was a weapon. He was so physical. He was a massive man.

“For a lot of those starting guys in ’03, that Test match Tuesday we used to have was his big day and he used to rip in. It kept the starting team on notice.

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“I didn’t start but came off the bench and we spent a bit of time together. He was aggressive and tough, that’s what I remember about the big guy.”

Vickerman played in 13 Tests across three World Cup campaigns, coming off the bench in the Wallabies’ win over Scotland in 2003.

Four years later he featured prominently in France, starting alongside Nathan Sharpe in the Wallabies’ frustrating 12-10 loss to England in Marseille.

Yet despite heading to Cambridge a year later, Vickerman returned on the eve of the 2011 World Cup and was picked immediately by Robbie Deans.

Nathan Sharpe summed up the feelings across the world, particularly in Australia, when Vickerman passed away in 2017.

“I had my arm around you for most of our playing days brother. No words can express the sadness,” Sharpe said.

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Former teammate Brendan Cannon wrote a touching tribute about his former club and national teammate in News Corp.

“I remember the first time I met him. He came to training at Sydney University, this huge South African lad we called Big V,” he wrote.

“He could be prickly and awkward but as we got to know him we fell in love with him.

“He was a big imposing bear that you wanted to be around.

“A giant of a man at 204cm, he managed to carry himself with a rare grace and poise.

“It can be difficult for a man of Vicks’ stature to blend in because you stick out like a sore thumb, the largest person in any room you’re in, but he carried his size comfortably.

“We won five club premierships together at Uni, and played for the Waratahs and Wallabies together.

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“It was during our Wallaby days that we became particularly close because we were roommates.

“Vicks was always his own harshest critic. He’d play some outstanding games but nitpick over little mistakes, and back in the hotel room I’d tell him not to worry about it.

“Then we’d have a laugh about how exasperated the South African team was that, being fluent in Afrikaans, he’d decode all of their lineout calls and steal their throws eight out of 10 times.”

And that was Vickerman. His own harshest critic, but a student of the game. And someone who could play and flatten and dent the opposition’s gain line.

Dan Vickerman is your choice of No.4 for The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies Rugby World Cup XV, powered by ASICS, the Official Performance Apparel and Footwear supplier for the Wallabies. Vickerman won with 41% of the vote, followed by Justin Harrison and Rod McCall. Check back tomorrow to find out who was selected at No.3.

Get your hands on the wonderful new ASICS Wallabies RWC strips which is available to purchase in-store, and online now at asics.com.au.

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The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies Rugby World Cup XV

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