Former Wallabies captain Ken Catchpole dies aged 78

SYDNEY (AP) Ken Catchpole, a speedy halfback who played 27 test matches for Australia and was a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame, has died. He was 78.

Rugby Australia said Friday that Catchpole, who also captained Australia in 13 tests, died Thursday night after a long illness.

Catchpole, known for his pace and accurate passing, came through the ranks in Sydney at Randwick and was picked as captain for his Wallabies debut in 1961 at the age of 21. He formed a halves combination with five-eighth Phil Hawthorne that was acknowledged as one of the best in the world at the time.

In 1968, Catchpole sustained a serious injury when he was pinned under other players in a ruck. He tore his hamstring and severely ruptured his groin, ending his playing career at the age of 28.

Catchpole was honored with a bronze statue outside Sydney Football Stadium, and the Sydney competition Shute Shield’s most valuable player award is named after him.

Rugby Australia board director and former Wallabies captain Paul McLean said Catchpole ”wasn’t just a remarkable rugby player, but also a remarkable man.”

”He’ll be fondly remembered as one of our best and his records will live long at Randwick, New South Wales and the Wallabies,” McLean added. ”(He) had a real aura about him both on and off the field. He might have been small in stature but you knew when Ken was in the room by the respect he commanded.”

Former Wallaby captain and 59-test flanker Simon Poidevin said Catchpole ”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,” Poidevin said. ”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 the second former Wallaby to die this week. German-born Stan Pilecki, who played 18 tests over a seven-year international career for Australia, died Wednesday at the age of 70.