World Cup-winning All Black and television rugby commentator John Drake died yesterday of a heart attack, aged just 49.
His death at his Mt Maunganui home - he collapsed as he was cleaning his swimming pool - has shocked former team mates and members of the rugby fraternity.
"He was one of those senior guys you had a huge amount of respect for ... you were almost terrified of him," said former All Black Michael Jones, who played alongside Drake in the 1987 Rugby World Cup-winning team. "You had to prove yourself. Once you had won his respect he was just a fantastic big brother figure."
Another former All Black and a fellow television comments man, Ian Jones, said he was devastated. "He was a strong family man, whose values we all admired. He was a happy, buoyant man. He was admired by the players, respected by the coaches. It's shocking."
Drake, a tight-head prop represented New Zealand between 1985 and 1987 and played 12 matches including eight tests.
Radio sportscaster Brendan Telfer, who worked with Drake every week on Radio Sport, said: "I always considered him to be the most knowledgeable rugby expert on television. He was the most articulate and I always enjoyed speaking to him for those reasons.
"It's an enormous loss to rugby media and the rugby community. "I spoke to him less than two weeks ago, I wished him a happy Christmas and said I'd see him back on the show in six weeks. I'm devastated."
TV commentator Keith Quinn knew Drake well and said he "always enjoyed being in his company. My first reaction is what an enormous sadness. John is the first of the team that won the Rugby World Cup of 1987 for the All Blacks to pass away so this is a double sadness for his standing.
"He has gained a reputation of being a very sound and dignified analyst of the modern game."
Drake is survived by his wife and three daughters.
- HERALD ON SUNDAY STAFF, NZPA