HE was a modest bloke, a wonderful mentor and one of the best halfbacks to put on a boot.
Australian rugby union is in mourning after the death of former Wallabies captain and halfback John Hipwell OAM.
Hipwell died suddenly on Monday while on holiday on the NSW North Coast. He was aged 65.
Born in Newcastle in 1948, Hipwell played 36 Tests for the Wallabies, nine as captain, and in 2006 was inducted into the Wallabies Hall of Fame.
He spent the past 20years in Brisbane where he taught and coached at the Anglican Grammar School.
Former Wallabies teammate Geoff Shaw led the tributes for the man known as ‘‘Hippy’’.
“John Hipwell was a Wallaby captain, a great bloke and a very close friend,” Shaw said. “He played for a very long time and made a lot of friends. He will be missed.”
The protege of another Newcastle-born Wallaby halfback Cyril Burke, Hipwell came though The Waratahs club.
His long and illustrious representative career started in 1966, aged 18, for NSW Country against the touring British and Irish Lions and continued until 1982.
‘‘At the first lineout he got kicked in the face by the Irish hooker for the Lions,’’ said Newcastle’s John Miner, who was one of the touch judges.
‘‘He had four teeth knocked out and played 80minutes with blood streaming everywhere. I think they saw the strength of the young guy.’’
Later that year, Hipwell toured with the Wallabies to the British Isles, France and Canada, playing 10 matches, without earning a cap.
He made his Test debut as a replacement for Ken Catchpole against New Zealand on June 15, 1968. In 1973 he was given the captaincy for the first time, against England at Twickenham.
‘‘To force your way into an Wallabies team when you come from Newcastle was no mean feat,’’ Miner said.
‘‘You didn’t have to be good, you had to be perfect. You had to overcome the bias of people wanting to pick Sydney halfbacks or Queensland halfbacks. To finish up as Wallabies captain ... he was far better than he was ever given credit for.’’
Hipwell was renowned as a powerful half with a long pass and ferocious defence.
‘‘He was a modest, quiet little bloke. Not the flamboyant types you see today,’’ Miner said.
‘‘He was a strong and explosive runner. He used to drop his left shoulder and drive off his right leg. He was like a rocket.
‘‘In defence he played more like a No.8. If they got past the ruck there was Hippy waiting for them. He would take them out low and hard.
‘‘He was a great player, a great man, a kind and gentle sort of bloke.’’
Hipwell is survived by wife Colleen and daughters Sarah-Jane and Jessica. Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.
Video highlights of the 1969 3rd Rugby Test - Australia v South Africa in Cape Town, featuring John Hipwell in his prime.