Vale: John David Brockhoff – 1928-2011

  1. Home
  2. Uncategorised
  3. Vale: John David Brockhoff – 1928-2011

Sydney University Sport & Fitness (SUSF) lost one of its favourite sons on Friday with the passing of rugby union Blue David Brockhoff, aged 83.

“Brock”, as he was known with affection the world over, was admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital the previous week after taking a serious fall.

In a lifetime closely connected with rugby, Brock covered all bases, from three years in the First XV at The Scots College to coaching the Wallabies to Bledisloe Cup success in 1979.

The years in between were littered with achievements for the tough-as-nails flanker. After enrolling in science at Sydney University, he won four rugby Blues from 1948-52 and played in the winning 1951 Shute Shield premiership team. He missed the 1949 premiership win over Gordon after being selected on the Wallaby tour of New Zealand.

Brock played 79 games for the University, including 71 in First Grade. He made his NSW debut in 1949 and went on to represent Australia later that year against New Zealand Maori at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane, where they played an eight-all draw. (Dual international, Rex Mossop, who died a day after Brock, at the same age, made his Wallaby debut in the next Test, against the All Blacks at Athletic Park, Wellington. He was in the second-row, with Brock at breakaway, as Australia won 11-6.)

Brockhoff went on to play 14 matches for NSW between 1949 and 1954, and 26 matches for Australia – including eight Tests – between 1949 and 1953. He shared in Australia’s Bledisloe Cup-winning-series success in New Zealand in 1949, appearing in 10 of the 12 matches as well as both Tests of a series that the Wallabies won two-nil.

He then went on the 1953 Wallaby tour of South Africa, appearing in 10 of the 27 games but missing out on selection in the Test side.

After his undergraduate years at Sydney University, Brock gave faithful service to Eastern Suburbs as a player until 1961. And on retirement, it didn’t take him long to enter the coaching ranks. He guided Easts’ Fourth Grade to a Henderson Cup premiership in his maiden season at the helm in 1963.

He returned to the University as First Grade coach in 1967 and guided the Students to the Shute Shield final before winning premierships in 1968, 1970 and 1972. He also served three stints as NSW coach from 1970-71, 1973-74 and 1978.

Brock took over the Australian coaching reins in 1974 and guided the Wallabies through to 1979. His first major success came in 1974-75 when Australia defeated England in two fiery Tests, while the final match of his tenure came in memorable circumstances when Australia beat New Zealand 12-6 in a one-off Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground to regain the Bledisloe Cup. The win gave him the rare distinction of playing in and coaching Bledisloe Cup-winning teams.

In later years he served as SUFC President in 1995, and in 1997 was picked as a reserve for SUFC’s Finest XV. He was also made a Life Member of the NSW and Australian Rugby Unions. He was also made an Honorary Fellow of Sydney University in 2006 for his contribution to the university and Australian rugby over the previous 58 years.

Until recent weeks, Brock could still be found on the sidelines at NSW Waratahs training sessions – rain, hail or shine. And for many years, he drove to Sydney airport to farewell the Waratahs and Wallabies whenever they ventured overseas. He was also there to welcome them home – win, lose or draw.

Brockhoff is described in Guardians of the Game as “an uncompromising flanker, fast in defence and attack, with loads of courage and toughness, yet was never sent off in his career”.

Born into a flour-milling family, whose business was based at Glebe Point Rd, his solid build and barrel chest was the result of toting bags of flour around the bakeries of the inner west. It was on these excursions that he first made contact with Sydney University. “I often walked through that place looking like a ghost,” he used to chortle.

While the list of his achievements on and off the rugby field make for amazing reading, they don’t convey the many facets of the enigmatic Brock character. Everyone who met Brock – and that would include most on the planet, from princes and paupers to wingers and wanderers – came away better for the experience. He made time for everyone and most had a story to tell of the man.

He could speak in rugby riddles, but for those who persevered and solved the sentences, he had an astute football brain, borne out of the good old rucking days against hardened All Blacks. It wasn’t all about kick and hope, rather territory and scope. His premiership Sydney University teams might have been built on wonderful packs and the kicking prowess of five-eighth Rupert Rosenblum, but the outside backs ran in more tries than critics care to remember – or research. It wasn’t all bash and barge. And he could spot a good footballer from 1000 paces.

In a fitting farewell, the day after his passing his beloved Sydney University turned in a clean-sweep of Warringah at No.1 Oval, where he had spent so many years playing and coaching, and that night the Waratahs played one of their better matches of the season, defeating the Brumbies 41-7 to enter the Super 15 finals.

A personal memory of Brock is of a cold winter’s afternoon at the Third Division rugby grand finals at Erskineville Oval in the early 1980s. Brock, who had been invited to present the First Grade premiership trophy, arrived early enough to also watch the Second and Third grade grand finals, incognito at the back of the grandstand. After presenting the trophies, he stayed well into the night, standing by a fire in a 44-gallon drum, having a beer and talking rugby with players who treated him in awe. Brock was just as at home there talking football as at Wallaby training.

He is survived by his wife Claire, sons John and Peter and daughter Julia.

A Memorial Service for the late David Brockhoff will be held on Friday 24th June at 3:00pm, St Andrew’s College, The University of Sydney.

A wake will be held at The Grandstand Bar, No. 1 Oval, The University of Sydney, following the Memorial Service.

St Andrew’s College is located at 19 Carillon Avenue (corner Missenden Road), Newtown.