Editorial: A man to take on the world

Sportsman. Politician. Businessman. Diplomat. Economic-rainmaker. Fixer. Leader. Winner.

Choose any of these labels and they can be worn, appropriately, by our New Zealander of the Year, Jock Hobbs. The NZ Rugby Union chairman won the accolade from a substantial field of achievers nominated by almost 1000 Herald readers and members of our editorial staff.

Our criteria for this award are that the person's achievements or actions in this year have been to the betterment of the country and its people. There is no doubt that through Mr Hobbs' outstanding range of talents and the manner in which he deployed them in 2005, his sport and the country will be better off.

The pinnacle of his success was leading the triumphant New Zealand bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Two bigger, richer nations in Japan and South Africa were said to have the inside running, but Mr Hobbs and his team out-strategised them for a surprise victory.

There was an immediate impact on the country's morale. We could still compete off the field in professional, global sport.

More importantly there will be long-lasting economic and sporting benefits to Auckland, where the biggest matches will occur, and the rest of the country.

Success in that bid was the result of a strategy led by Mr Hobbs and his union chief executive, Chris Moller, over many months.

First, the Government was enjoined as a direct partner - a political master-stroke that provided certainty and a national commitment in the eyes of the International Rugby Board.

Then, Mr Hobbs employed his personal rugby charisma and business networking, with Mr Moller, in a succession of international sorties to court votes in rugby capitals. It was a direct, "whites-of-their-eyes" approach, with the necessary embellishments to convince delegates NZ would scratch other nations' backs as necessary.

Finally, the chairman assembled a bid presentation team of inspired range and calibre to hammer home in Dublin the messages he had personally delivered in restaurants and meeting rooms across the globe. He even advised the Prime Minister to change her speech so as to blend more subtly into the campaign's themes.

It was a remarkable achievement, against the odds. Yet the success was in keeping with Mr Hobbs' year. He presided over the national sport for its biggest challenge away from hosting a World Cup, that of hosting a Lions tour.

The All Blacks won all but one of their season's internationals and all of the trophies that were on offer.

The rugby union through its partners in Sanzar negotiated a new path for professional rugby with its broadcasting funders, including an expanded Tri Nations and two more teams into a Super 14. Mr Hobbs' union also recast the domestic competition, which will next year see expanded national provincial tournaments, in pools of teams.

Any individual's success in one year reflects past achievements. Jock Hobbs, the All Black captain of the mid-1980s, disappeared from view after repeated concussions and the underhandedness of the boycott-breaking Cavaliers tour to South Africa in 1986, of which he was a participant. In the mid-1990s, he returned to play a key role in thwarting the All Blacks being bought by an outfit named World Rugby Corporation. In 2002, he was back again, to be made chairman of the union.

New Zealand's successful bid for the cup was a surprise. Mr Hobbs' success in this Herald award less so.

No sports leader has won it since Sir Peter Blake in the mid-1990s. Then, too, it recognised a person of broad talents who had secured for the nation something that promised infrastructural development, economic benefits, sporting hope and joy and a chance to show the world what New Zealand can do.

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