Sydney - Former Wallaby captain Ken Catchpole, considered one of the greats of Australian rugby, has died aged 78 following a long illness, Rugby Australia said on Friday.
Affectionately known as "Catchy," he played 27 Tests, 13 as skipper, and formed one of the game's enduring scrumhalf partnerships with flyhalf Phil Hawthorne.
Catchpole captained Australia at 21 on his international debut against Fiji in 1961 and went on to become an influential figure in Australian rugby throughout that decade.
He suffered a career-ending injury in 1968 at the age of 28 when he was seriously hurt in a brutal tackle by All Black hard man Colin Meads.
Meads stretched Catchpole’s leg in a ruck and, with the other leg caught, it led to a complete rupture of groin and hamstring muscles. Comeback attempts were unsuccessful.
"Ken wasn't just a remarkable rugby player but also a remarkable man," Rugby Australia board member and former Wallabies skipper Paul McLean said.
"Ken had a real aura about him both on and off the field. He might have been small in stature but you knew when Ken was in the room by the respect he commanded."
Catchpole was inducted onto the Museum of Rugby Wall of Fame in 2004 and is honoured in perpetuity with a plaque in the Walk of Honour at the Sydney Cricket Ground to commemorate his career.
He received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2005.
Upon his induction into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame, then ARU president Paul McLean referred to him as "exuding grace and majesty".
Former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer said what he did in the game "are the things of legend".
"He was something else, he was a phenomenal athlete. Superb pass, agility, and he was tough," Dwyer added.
"To get a full appreciation of the talents of Catchy, you’d only need to talk to his forwards. No matter how much you praised them, they’d say: 'No, no ... we had Catchy'".
Former Wallaby forward also Simon Poidevin paid tribute to a fallen team-mate, saying: "Ken was an extraordinary athlete with blistering speed, amazing agility and a fearless spirit in taking on much bigger opponents."
"Catchy was a natural leader and was consistently rated the best halfback in the world.
"He was loved by Wallabies young and old and displayed a modesty that defied his achievements and set an example for our sport."
Catchpole is the second former Wallaby to pass away this week following the death of 18-Test prop and Queensland great Stan Pilecki, aged 70.