Jock Hobbs simply was the man who saved rugby.

It was with those words that friends, family and rugby mates remembered the former All Black captain and New Zealand Rugby Union chairman at a funeral at Wellington's Old St Paul's church this afternoon.

About 800 mourners gathered to pay tribute to Hobbs, who died on Tuesday at the age of 52 after a long battle with leukaemia.

His wife Nicky, son Michael and daughters Isabelle, Penny and Emily walked solemnly into the church along with the All Blacks in the minutes before the service began.


Sporting luminaries among the mourners included Hobbs' brother-in-law, Wallabies' coach Robbie Deans, former All Blacks' coach Graham Henry, and past players Sir Colin Meads and Grant Fox.

Prime Minister John Key, his wife Bronagh and Sports and Recreation Minister Gerry Brownlee also paid their respects.

Among his many feats and accomplishments, Hobbs will long be remembered for securing the signatures of the All Blacks on New Zealand rugby contracts when the game went professional in 1995 and a rebel league threatened to change the face of the game.

For his efforts, he was labelled "the man who saved rugby'' - a description that was repeated at the service today, and is likely to become his epitaph in the minds of many.

All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw told the service they had lost a great New Zealander, an All Black captain and the man who led the game.

"But you put all that to the side, I think you'll agree we've lost a mate, just a genuine good bugger.''

As an administrator, Hobbs fitted in with the All Blacks effortlessly, even taking part in training.

"Everyone would just think it was just Jock, putting on the boots and getting out there,'' McCaw said.


"From the team's point of view, we absolutely loved the time we had with him.''

McCaw said the mana Hobbs had with the All Blacks could not be put into words.

Hobbs' son Michael gave a tearful eulogy in which he said his father had brought the family comfort even when he was at his most frail.

"We know you were exhausted, dad, and we're happy in knowing you're no longer struggling ... You leave a big void in all of our lives, dad, and one that we will never be able to fill,'' he said.

"We love you dad, enjoy your rest - you've earned it.''

Daughters Penny and Isabelle Hobbs tearfully read out an emotional poem paying tribute to their father, saying his family had come first and his actions left no room for doubt.

"He'd be happiest being remembered by all who knew him as a man who loved his family.''

Hobbs' younger brother Peter told the service it had not been difficult living under his brother's shadow.

"To all of us that knew and loved him, Jock was just Jock.''

He said the family did not have a rugby tradition before Jock, but his success was all down to his enormous focus and courage.

"If he was going to do something, he was going to try and be the very best at it. Jock was go hard, or go home.''

His drive and determination had come at a cost to his health and wellbeing, but he had bravely faced his battle with cancer "with great courage and his usual determination to prevail''.

He praised his brother's unwavering commitment to his family, especially wife Nicky, who was always by his side.

Friend Rob Morrison paid tribute to Hobbs' commitment to securing the hosting rights to last year's Rugby World Cup for New Zealand.

The tournament was tremendously important to him, but also took more out of him than many suspected as he fought cancer.

"And yet throughout his illness, Jock showed great bravery, facing the disease with tremendous courage and determination.''

Mr Morrison said it was common to talk of losing battles with cancer.

"I don't accept that. In life there is death, and death is part of life, and to die is not to be a loser - it is simply the final chapter of a life that was never about losing,'' he said.

"As he leaves this field today, we know he gave it everything. He was a winner.''

Born in Christchurch in 1960 and educated at Christ's College, Hobbs went on to Canterbury University to study law.

He was admitted to the bar in 1983 and joined Wellington law firm Rainey Collins in 1987, where he was made a partner in 1987 and managing partner four years later.

Hobbs first played for Canterbury as a flanker in 1980, but his pivotal moment for the team came in 1982 when they beat Wellington to claim the Ranfurly Shield.

He was selected as an All Black in 1983, playing his first test against the Lions at Lancaster Park.

His career spanned 39 games, 21 of them test matches, and he captained the team 16 times, four of them in tests.

Hobbs was chairman of the NZRU from 2002 until he stood down in 2010 as his health declined.