Warren Alcock: Pride and passion driving force for Hobbs

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Jock Hobbs fought for the survival of the All Blacks during the WRC-led takeover. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jock Hobbs fought for the survival of the All Blacks during the WRC-led takeover. Photo / Greg Bowker

While New Zealand fans were still recovering from the 1995 Rugby World Cup, an entity known as the World Rugby Corporation (WRC) had approached All Blacks about signing contracts to participate in what, at that stage, was an unknown competition.

The players received a memorandum five days after the final, which set out the detail of the WRC contract and the implications.

The players were then amateurs. The prospect of being paid any money would have appealed. The average contract was approximately $200,000 a year for a three-year term. How could one reasonably expect any of them to resist it?

Davenports, a legal firm representing the All Blacks players' committee, concluded they were happy with the agreement.

I was approached by Josh Kronfeld to represent him. Players were being asked to sign their WRC contract by the Monday after the Eden Park test against Australia.

What became apparent was the WRC proposal was significantly advanced and there appeared to be little or minimal contact from the NZRU.

Josh was particularly interested to know where the All Blacks would fit in the WRC competition, if at all. He wasn't ready to give away his All Black jersey but nothing much happened after I called someone on the NZRU board to say time was of the essence if they wanted to retain their top All Blacks. It was a disappointing reaction from the NZRU.

The WRC had also approached a large number of provincial players, who were offered contracts to participate in the WRC competition. In Otago, this included about 60 to 70 per cent of the squad. The key Otago players asked me to represent the whole squad.

At the time, my natural inclination was to favour the NZRU. They had control of the All Black brand and jersey. Despite that, another lawyer Michael Fisher and I approached both the NZRU and WRC proposal with an open mind, undertaking proper due diligence. However, with the NZRU, it was hard to do any due diligence on an offer when you didn't have one.

By July 25, 17 All Blacks had signed with the WRC, three were heading to Japan and six wanted more time. We were also getting advice from the WRC that they had signed both the French and South African squads. We managed to extend the time for Josh to sign to July 27. We had already missed several deadlines.

It was about this time I had my first contact with Jock Hobbs. Jock was on the NZRU board and was part of the NZRU negotiating team. He introduced me to David Howman, who was representing Jeff Wilson, and I struck up an immediate relationship of trust. David gave me an assurance about Jock Hobbs' trustworthiness. Without that level of trust, I'm not sure we would have had the same result.

I explained to Jock that the NZRU seemed so far behind, that recovering the ground they had lost may not be possible, particularly given a large number of All Blacks had already signed.I agreed to meet Jock in Sydney on the morning of the All Black test on July 29.

The NZRU presented a letter to the players after the game. That letter, signed by Jock Hobbs, Brian Lochore and Rob Fisher, set out the NZRU's offer and concluded with the following paragraph: "We are conscious of our duty towards you and the other 150,000 rugby players in New Zealand. We are also conscious that we must act responsibly, that all New Zealand rugby, including All Black rugby, continues to be strong, that your sons have the same opportunity to wear the silver fern that you've had."

Those people who know Jock will know that paragraph contains some of the sentiments he was well known for: fairness to all players and an absolute desire to protect the All Black jersey for future generations.

But by this point, the WRC was so well entrenched and had sufficiently large numbers already signed that it was difficult to see how the NZRU could recover. Someone had to accept the challenge. Fortunately for New Zealand rugby, Jock did. I'm convinced that, but for Jock's complete commitment, the NZRU would probably have lost.

At a meeting in Sydney, we presented the NZRU with an ultimatum that, if they didn't sign, we were leaving. Not a bargaining technique I'd recommend but the NZRU needed to get some runs on the board and soon.

Jock, along with Rob Fisher and Richard Crawshaw, eventually agreed to sign. The essence of the memorandum was that the NZRU had to agree to offer contracts to all the clients we had listed and those contracts were to be for a term of not less than 12 months. Part of our strategy was that we didn't give them the schedule of players until after they had signed the memorandum.

Fisher's list comprised players from Counties, Waikato and Wellington . I remember Michael reading out the names of the Counties players first. On top was a prop, Lee Lidgard. After hearing it, Jock immediately blurted out; "f*** ... we've done dough there." But Lidgard went on to play for the Chiefs for a number of years. I have no doubt Jock would have been pleased with the investment. My list was simple. The whole Otago squad and players from Wellington and Hawke's Bay. All good buys.

Following the meeting, there was a period of 11 days which seemed like an eternity. Every moment was dedicated to this project. Our days were spent attending meetings and communicating with players and WRC representatives who were applying significant pressure to get contracts concluded, negotiating with the NZRU and using all our methods of intelligence to check what was happening in other parts of the world (naturally the South Africans changed their minds about the WRC).

The NZRU involvement was all with Jock. I didn't get much sleep and know Jock was getting even less . I told him on one call at 3am I did only two things well at that time of the morning and discussing contracts was not one of them so hung up.

The pressure and workload was wearing us both out. During that time, the Otago chairman called to say the ORFU would no longer be using Gallaway Haggit Sinclair for legal services because I was dealing with the "rebel circus". Just what I needed. At a presentation in Dunedin, Jock had a run-in with a senior player, sometimes known as Jake the Muss. Afterwards, a disheartened Jock left the room to allow the ORFU officials to present their case to the players.

Having been dumped by the ORFU, I left with Jock. While outside, it became clear Jock was struggling as the pressures of the last few weeks caught up with him and he started to get a bit emotional. The next thing I was having a man hug with an ex-All Black captain.

After a few days, we signed all the players we represented to the NZRU, including Josh Kronfeld and Jeff Wilson. They were the first to sign with the union. Jock signed the rest (including the 17 All Blacks who had signed with the WRC) within a few days and the WRC collapsed.

Jock got credit and it was well deserved but, if you know Jock, credit wasn't what he sought.

After giving everything to secure the future of the NZRU, he was effectively sacked by the NZRU and the provinces, which I found staggering. Clearly, they didn't know what Jock did to save the game. He eventually regained a board position.

We continued to have contact in many deals. I lost a few battles with him, but Jock had a good sense of fairness and an instinct for recognising what was important. He also gave his blessing for me to represent his son, Michael, in his professional rugby career.

Back in 1995, after paying my very reasonable account, Jock still took time to acknowledge me personally. That was Jock.

Remembering Jock, a tribute to Jock Hobbs, is a collection of stories from notable personalities, including Colin Meads, Helen Clark, Richie McCaw and John Hart, available for $45 from jockthebook.com. All profits go towards the cost of a stained glass window in the Christ's College Chapel in remembrance of Jock, Ruth Spearing Cancer Research Trust and Leukaemia & Blood Cancer NZ.

- Herald on Sunday

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