The Great Ken Catchpole Dies

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 14:42
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Ken Catchpole was regarded by many as the greatest scrumhalf in the world in his day.

He did not kick particularly well and, despite his speed and agility, he did not break often but he was brave and, best if all, his passing was outstanding - quick, accurate and straight from the ground without any backward movement or destructive steps. He cannibalised none of his backs' space and he passed to a flyhalf, not to a prop. His flyhalves enjoyed his service, none more so than Phil Hawthorne. Together they formed the best halfback pairing in the world in their time.

He had great resilience. He won a scholarship to put himself through Scots College, one of Sydney Great Public Schools, which his parents could not afford. Then a scholarship enabled him to graduate from Sydney University with a degree in chemical engineering. And while he was studying, he was already playing top rugby.

He was 19 when he first played for New South Wales and not yet 22 when he played his first Test. Not only did he make his Test debut but he also captained Australia. In those amateur days of far fewer Tests, Catchpole played for Australia till 1968, 27 times in all, and 13 times he captained the team. He played seven times against New Zealand, six times against South Africa, three times against Fiji,  twice each against the B&I Lions, France, Ireland and It alky and once each against England, Scotland and Wales.

Probably the best Wallaby performance in his time was on the 24-match South African tour in 1963 when John Thornett was the captain. He did not play in the first Test, which South Africa won but played in the next three Tests. The Wallabies won Tests two and three and lost the fourth to share the series, something the B&I Lions could not do the year before. Catchpole's opposition then were Piet Uys and Nelie Smith.

Apart from his service on that tour, his covering defence was brilliant. One Jannie  Engelbrecht was over the line and in the act of dotting down for the try when Catchpole dived in at the ball and knocked it from the Springbok wing's grasp.

In 1962 he was in the Wallaby side that neat the All Blacks in Wellington and in 1965 in the Wallaby side that won both Tests against the touring Springboks when the opposing scrumhalf was Dawie de Villiers.

In his last Test, in 1968, he suffered a serious injury when, trapped under a ruck, his leg was pulled by Colin Meads of New Zealand. His hamstring was torn from his pelvic bone, his groin muscles were ripped and stretched and his sciatic nerve damaged. For four years he tried rehabilitation and played some club rugby for Randwick before giving up the game altogether.

After his playing days he stayed involved with his club, Randwick, became a rugby broadcaster and became the president of the New South Wales Rugby Union. In 2013 he was inducted into World Rugby's Hall of Fame.

In Sydney's Shute Shield competition the player regarded as the most valuable in the competition receives the Ken Catchpole Medal.

He received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2005. In 2013, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

His son Mark, also a scrumhalf, played in Western Province for a while.

Kenneth William Catchpole was born in Sydney 21 June 1939. He died peacefully in Sydney on 21 December 2017after a long illness.

He was a rugby great.

Simon Poidevin, the president of the Classic Wallabies, said:  "The Classic Wallabies are truly saddened by the news of the passing of one of the great icons of Rugby Union in the legendary Ken Catchpole.

"Affectionately known as 'Catchy' to his team mates and rugby supporters around the world, Ken was an extraordinary athlete with blistering speed, amazing agility and a fearless spirit in taking on much bigger opponents.

"Catchy was a natural leader and was consistently rated the best halfback in the world. He was loved by Wallabies young and old and displayed a modesty that defied his achievements and set an example for our sport.

"He was one of 102 Wallabies selected from the Randwick Club, a team he dearly loved. Coogee Oval has arguably never seen a better player than Ken Catchpole."