Lest we forget
December 29, 2012
Wales mourned the death of 'Merv the Swerve' in 2012 © Getty Images
Amid all the festive celebrations and New Year resolutions, there should also be time to reflect on those who we have lost in the past year. ESPNscrum looks back at the lives of some of those that the sport mourned in 2012.
Mervyn 'The Swerve' Davies (December 9, 1946 - March 15, 2012)
One of the game's all-time greats passed away in March of 2012 having lost his battle with cancer. A veteran of both the 1971 and 1974 British & Irish Lions tours, Davies was one of the sport's most formidable back-rows. He won 46 caps for Wales and skippered the team to the Five Nations championship in 1975 and then the Grand Slam the following year. He was widely tipped to skipper the Lions in 1977 but his career was cut short after he suffered a brain haemorrhage playing for Swansea against Pontypool in a Welsh Cup semi-final in 1976.
Tributes poured in for Davies with his former team-mate and friend John Taylor saying: "Merv won his spurs in the southern hemisphere and earned enormous respect from New Zealand and South Africa. He was a very hard man by that time, an old fashioned grafter who did the business at the coalface rather than a flash No.8. He won you ball in all the dark areas and he had these telescopic arms. His tackling ability was phenomenal. Just when you thought someone was through then he would reach out and drag them back."
Jock Hobbs (February 15, 1980 - March 13, 2012)
One of New Zealand's favourite sons, Hobbs lost his battle with cancer in March. A formidable flanker, Hobbs won 21 Test caps for the All Blacks between 1983 and 1986 - with four as captain - and was a constant feature for Canterbury during the 1980s. His playing career was ended prematurely at the age of 26 after suffering one too many concussions. Hobbs then turned his hand to a legal career before joining the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1995. He played a key part in tying down the country's elite players to the NZRU at the turn of professionalism and also helped form Super Rugby.
Twickenham pays tribute to Mervyn Davies and Jock Hobbs © Getty Images
He played an instrumental part in bringing the recent World Cup to New Zealand in 2011 and also presented Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina with their 100th caps during the tournament. Hobbs had battled leukaemia since 2006 - during which time he was chairman of the NZRU. After complications arose in 2010, Hobbs resigned from his position on the NZRU board to focus on his health.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen paid tribute to Hobbs saying: "There have been a lot of great people involved in New Zealand rugby. But I think this man is the greatest. When you go back through the history of administration, he has been involved in all the big, critical moments."
Dr. Jack Matthews (June 21, 1920 - July 18, 2012)
A matter of three months after Welsh rugby mourned the death of the great 'Merv the Swerve', they had to cope with the passing of Dr. Jack Matthews. Matthews was part of a legendary Welsh midfield partnership alongside Bleddyn Williams during the late 1940s and early 1950s. A General Practitioner by profession, the former Newport and Cardiff star Matthews was also a doctor on the British & Irish Lions' tour of South Africa in 1980. Matthews, who was made an OBE in 2001, played 17 times for Wales and skippered the side against France in Paris in 1951. He was also captain of Cardiff for four seasons. He also shone on the track in the 200 yard sprint and in the boxing ring and was later the medical officer to the Welsh Boxing Association.
Dr. Jack Matthews in action against France © PA Photos
Huw Richards paid tribute to Dr. Matthews saying: "It is exceptionally hard, when your parents have had you christened John, to achieve the supreme Welsh popular tribute of being known purely by your forename. There are just too many of them. But, with the addition of a professional title, Jack Matthews, who has just died at the age of 92, made it. For the last 65 years or so, nobody in Wales has needed any further explanation as to the identity of Dr Jack."
Sir Fred Allen (February 9, 1920 - April 28, 2012)
Former New Zealand coach Sir Fred Allen died in April at the age of 92. Allen, who coached the All Blacks from 1966 until 1968 and was known as The Needle, had been battling ill health for some time and was in full-time care. A fly-half, he played 21 matches for the All Blacks between 1946 and 1949 and captained the side in all of them - but it was as a coach he made a major impression.
During his spell in charge of New Zealand, one of the team's greatest eras, all 14 Tests matches played were won. He was knighted in 2010 and had been inducted into the New Zealand and International Rugby Halls of Fame. New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle paid tribute to the former coach saying: "Sir Fred is one of the most treasured legends in rugby. He represented a great era of success for the All Blacks both as a player and as an unbeaten coach during his tenure. His unfailing dedication to rugby and his continuing contribution to the game, well after his own playing and coaching days, secures his place in our history books as one of the great legends of the game."
Nevin Spence (April 26, 1990 - September 15, 2012)
Irish rugby was in shock after promising centre Nevin Spence tragically died in September 2012. The 22-year old, an Irish Wolfhounds international and a member of the Ulster squad that reached the 2012 Heineken Cup final, died after falling into a slurry tank. He passed away alongside his father and brother. Tributes were paid from around the rugby world to Spence with Ulster's Rory Best speaking at his memorial service and skipper Johann Muller also leading the tributes.
Ravenhill remembers Nevin Spence © PA Photos
"Nevin Spence was a highly skilful and gifted rugby player," Muller said. "He was utterly committed to Ulster and was enormously proud to represent his province. He was determined to be the best that he could be and I have no doubt that he would have gone on to play for Ireland on many occasions. He was the kind of player that inspired others with his attitude in training and sheer will to win in matches.
"His positive outlook on life brought a smile to people's faces. He was kind, polite, generous and courageous, and we were blessed to have him in our team. The one comfort for us as a squad is that we have each other for support. It has been a difficult time for the players and coaches but I believe that through this tragic loss, we will have a new sense of togetherness."
Gordon Waddell (April 12, 1937 - August 13, 2012)
Former Scotland and Lions stand-off Gordon Waddell died aged 75. Waddell played 18 times for Scotland between 1957 and 1962 where he captained them five times in the process. He also toured New Zealand with the 1959 Lions.
ESPNscrum historian John Griffiths said of the ex-Lion: "He was Scotland's guiding genius when they beat Wales 8-3 at Cardiff in 1962 - their first win at the Arms Park since 1927. The same year he went on the Lions tour of SA playing in the two opening Tests before giving way to Richard Sharp. His father Herbert Waddell was a Lion in SA in 1924 and also played stand-off for Scotland.
"He settled in South Africa and became prominent in SA Politics as an MP for Helen Suzman's Progressive Party. I remember him as being on the big side for a stand-off but he was a good passer, had a siege-gun kick and a good tactical brain. He was never dropped by Scotland, only missing games through injury."
Wilson Whineray (July 10, 1935 - October 22, 2012)
Former All Blacks skipper Wilson Whineray passed away in October. Sir Wilson made his Test debut for the All Blacks back in May 1957 when he was 21 and took on the captaincy for their 1958 series against Australia. Sir Wilson ended up making 77 appearances for the All Blacks, which included 32 Tests, and captained the famous side on 67 occasions. Sir Wilson received his knighthood in 1994 and was named patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union in 2003. Four years later he became only the fourth person to be inducted into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame.
Malcolm Thomas (April 25, 1929 - April 9, 2012)
Former Wales skipper Malcolm Thomas died in April aged 82. Thomas, who played centre, wing and fullback, accrued 27 caps for Wales between 1949 and 1959 and was also part of the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 1950 and 1959. Thomas looked set to make the Lions tour in 1955 to South Africa but a broken leg put pay to that prospect.
Thomas took his bow for Wales in 1949 and scored the winning try against Ireland in 1950 to secure Wales' first Triple Crown since their triumph in 1911. Wales obtained the Grand Slam that year and Thomas also played in all four matches of their 1952 Slam.
Bob Scott (February 6, 1921 - November 16, 2012)
Scott was the oldest living All Black when he passed away in November. Regarded as the "complete fullback", according to NZRU chairman Mike Eagle, Wellington-born Scott made his debut for the All Blacks against Australia in Dunedin in 1946 at the age of 25 and went on to wear the black jersey in 52 matches including 17 Tests. He retired in 1954 after playing his last Test against France in Paris.
Bob Scott practises his kicking © PA Photos
Scott was widely regarded as one of the finest players, in any position, to have played for New Zealand. Commentator Winston McCarthy wrote, "For me there will never by anyone as great as Scott." Former South Africa No.8 Hennie Muller described him as: "Altogether, the greatest footballer I've ever played against in any position".
John Brain (June 7, 1960 - May 27, 2012)
A Gloucester legend, Brain died in late May, 2012. Brain made nearly 300 appearances for Gloucester as a player and also worked as assistant coach at Kingsholm under Philippe Saint-Andre before taking charge at Worcester. He guided Worcester into the Premiership and coached the forwards at Bristol before returning to Gloucester in 2010 in a scouting capacity.
Gloucester's Ryan Walkinshaw said of Brain's death: "When Ken [Nottage] told me the news I could barely believe what I was hearing. We are all incredibly saddened by his passing, and it is far too young an age to pass away. It's been a massive shock. John was a true legend of the Gloucester club, not just for his outstanding time as a player, but also for his two stints at coaching the club. He was a very switched-on character, he loved the club and cared deeply about it."
Selorm Kuadey (May 5, 1987 - January, 2012)
Sale mourned the death of former England U20s wing Selorm Kuadey back in January. Kuadey, who also earned international honours for England Sevens and U19s, was forced to retire from rugby in 2010 on medical advice having struggled with a succession of injuries. After leaving Sale he had gained a first class honours degree in human biology & infectious diseases at the University of Manchester, and was appointed as a business manager for an orthodontics company. He passed away in January, 2012, with reports claiming that he took his own life.
Richard 'Tiny' White (June 11, 1925 - March 10, 2012)
Richard 'Tiny' White, the legendary All Black, died aged 86 in Gisborne after a short illness. The lock played 23 consecutive Tests for New Zealand between 1949 and 1956, when he was part of the side that recorded a first series win over South Africa in ferocious circumstances - scoring tries in the first and third Tests.
White played a further 32 tour games for the All Blacks, after initially impressing selectors while on army duty, and was a committed servant of Poverty Bay domestically. Noted rugby scribe Terry McLean wrote of White: "He played with matchless vigour, especially in the lineout."
David Tait (July 5, 1987 - December 13, 2012)
Ex-Sale flanker David Tait tragically died in December with reports suggesting that he fell from an apartment block in Hong Kong. During his playing days, Tait spent five years with Sale, who signed him as a teenager, and he made 28 Premiership appearances for them. He was part of England's training squad for the 2008-09 IRB World Sevens Series, but did not play. He later played for Scotland at the 2009 Dubai Sevens but his career was cut short due to injury and he became a corporate finance manager for multinational firm KPMG.
Former Sale and England captain Jason Robinson said on Twitter: "Holding back the tears thinking about the loss of David Tait. Lovely young man who will be greatly missed. Thoughts & prayers to his family".
Mitchell Todd (March 15, 1991 - August 16, 2012)
Scotland U20 international Mitchell Todd was the victim of a car accident near Normanton-on-the-Wolds earlier this year. He had just finished a degree in sports therapy at Coventry University and turned out for Nottingham in the British & Irish Cup last term. They said in a statement: "He was an exceptional talent and a highly-valued member of the squad, and he will be missed by all of those that knew him."
Todd won 10 Scotland U20 caps and also played in the IRB Junior World Championship. Rob Brierley, the Scottish Rugby Union's performance development manager for Exiles, said: "Mitch was a quiet, sensitive bloke with a real steely determination never more evident than on the rugby pitch. He was a real athlete, somebody who was late to the game and was developing all the time."
Maleli Kunavore (November 13, 1983 - November 15, 2012)
Former Fiji international Maleli Kunavore has died in Suva in November aged just 29. A member of the Fiji squad that reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, he saw his playing career cut short by a heart condition in 2010 and reports suggested he passed away in hospital having undergone a further operation.
The versatile back spent five seasons with French giants Toulouse and shared in their Top 14 final victory over Clermont Auvergne in 2008 and was a member of the side that was beaten by Munster in the final of the Heineken Cup the same year. On behalf of the Fiji Rugby Union, development manager Sale Sorovaki said: "It is so sad to lose a fellow rugby player and at such a young age. Kunavore was a very gifted and talented player and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, may he rest in peace."
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