Rugby community mourns 'extraordinary' Catchpole

Wallabies legend Ken Catchpole is being remembered as arguably Australia's greatest ever rugby player.

Catchpole died in Sydney on Thursday night after a long battle with illness, aged 78.

In an international career cut short because of injury, Catchpole left an indelible mark on Australian rugby in 27 Tests for the Wallabies between 1961 and 1968.

He captained Australia in 13 of those Tests, including when he was on debut in the famous Wallabies jumper against Fiji as a 21-year-old.

"Australian rugby owes him plenty, it could be argued that we've never had a better player," former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer said.

"He was, from the very start of his career to the very end - extraordinary."

Rugby Australia paid tribute to its former skipper.

"Ken wasn't just a remarkable rugby player but also a remarkable man," Rugby Australia director and former Wallabies skipper Paul McLean said.

"He'll be fondly remembered as one of our best and his records will live long at Randwick, NSW and the Wallabies.

"Ken had a real aura about him both on and off the field."

Catchpole first made his mark in Sydney club rugby with Randwick in the late 1950s before going on to play more than 180 games with the Galloping Greens.

???'Catchy' as the halfback was affectionately known, was part of a strong Wallabies outfit that amongst other achievements took out consecutive Test matches in South Africa in 1966 - a feat which hadn't been achieved since a British touring side in 1896.

Fellow Randwick legend and ex-Wallabies captain Simon Poidevin said Catchpole deserved to be rated among the icons of rugby.

"Ken was an extraordinary athlete with blistering speed, amazing agility and a fearless spirit in taking on much bigger opponents," Poidevin said.

"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."

Conqueror: Ken Catchpole collects from the scrum during the famous 1963 tour of South Africa.

Conqueror: Ken Catchpole collects from the scrum during the famous 1963 tour of South Africa.

Dwyer says that Wallabies from Catchpole's era constantly praised the halfback's 'greatness'.

"If you speak to anyone from that era about why they were so good, when you point to their forward pack or anything else, you are cut off."

"'No, no... we had Catchy', they say. 'Yeah, yeah... but what about..?' Again, 'no, no, we had Catchy."

"There were some truly phenomenal players in that side and they all put it down to Catchy."

Catchpole was also known for his accurate passing and clever opportunism and was inducted in the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2013.

His playing career came to an abrupt end at 28 when he suffered a severe hamstring injury in a tackle from All Blacks legend Colin Meads.

He is immortalised with a statue outside Allianz Stadium in Sydney, while the Shute Shield's most valuable player award honours his name in the Sydney club competition.

The statue will be relocated to the entrance of the new Rugby Australia building in the Moore Park sporting precinct on Boxing Day.

Catchpole was an inaugural inductee to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

In retirement, Catchpole became a respected voice on the national broadcaster ABC's rugby coverage and he served as a president of NSW Rugby Union.

He was also a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust for more than two decades.

He is the second former Wallaby being mourned this week after 18-Test prop and Queensland great Stan Pilecki died aged 70.

with AAP

This story Rugby community mourns 'extraordinary' Catchpole first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.