Scrum Sevens
Rest in peace
ESPNscrum Staff
December 29, 2010
Rosslyn Park's Andy Ripley, January 1, 1975
Former England forward Andy Ripley lost his battle with cancer earlier this year © Getty Images

As we prepare to draw a line under another year, we've dedicated our latest Scrum Seven to some of the rugby greats we lost in the last 12 months.

Bill McLaren (Scotland)

The legendary commentator, who died in January aged 86, honed a reputation as the 'voice of rugby' during almost 50 years behind the microphone for the BBC. His journalistic career began with the Hawick Express before he jumped into commentary, making his radio debut for the BBC in 1953 as Scotland lost 12-0 to Wales. His television debut came in 1959 and his final game in 2002, as Scotland beat Wales 27-22 in Cardiff. "There must have been something inside me that wanted to describe rugby football to people," he recalled before his retirement. The only non-player to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame, his imagination and turn of phrase conjured such colourful soundbites as "He's like a demented ferret up a wee drainpipe" and "I'm no hod carrier, but I'll tell you this. I'd be laying bricks if I looked up and saw that fellow running at me.". Sky Sports rugby commentator Miles Harrison was left in no doubt as to McLaren's greatness following his passing in January. "Great is an overused word in sport, and by sports commentators - though Bill would never have overused it. But it is a word that is very appropriate for him."

Ruben Kruger (South Africa)

A no-nonsense flanker who helped South Africa to their famous victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Kruger lost a long battle with cancer in January this year at the age of 39. He was in prime form during the sport's third World Cup and scored a controversial try in the semi-final victory over France in Durban. In the final he started alongside skipper Francois Pienaar and Mark Andrews in the back-row, beating the All Blacks to claim South Africa's first World Cup title. At club level he served Free State and Northern Transvaal, now the Blue Bulls, before retiring after the 1999 World Cup following a series of knee injuries. In 2000 he was diagnosed with cancer after blacking out during a game and fought the disease valiantly for the following 10 years. "Ruben Kruger was the epitome of the Springbok flanker, tough, indomitable and with an outstanding work ethic," Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, said. "When Ruben was on the field you always knew that the Springboks would not be beaten without a tremendous battle."

Eric 'Snowy' Tindill (New Zealand)

Legendary former All Black Tindill died in August, aged 99. A talented all-round sportsman, he held the unique distinction of being the only man to represent New Zealand in both rugby and cricket Tests. He played wicket-keeper for the Black Caps on five occasions between 1937 and 1947 and won his sole All Blacks Test cap at fly-half in a 13-0 loss to England at Twickenham in 1936 - a game now famous for Alexander Obolensky's thrilling tries on debut for the home side. Following his retirement from playing Tindill racked up another unique double, refereeing rugby and cricket at the highest level. He took charge of the first two Tests between the All Blacks and British & Irish Lions in 1950, later returning to Lancaster Park in Christchurch to umpire the Black Caps' Test against England in 1959. At the time of his death, Tindill was the oldest Test cricketer of all time as well as the oldest surviving All Black. "His achievements as a player in many sports, umpire and referee, as well as other amazing deeds reads like a Boys Own story," commented Justin Vaughan, New Zealand Cricket chief executive.

Andy Ripley (England)

Another talented all-round athlete, Ripley lost his battle with prostate cancer in June aged 62. The hard-running No.8 won 24 caps for England between 1972 and 1976 and was also part of the 'Invincibles' - the Lions squad that went unbeaten on their tour of South Africa in 1974. A life-long servant of Rosslyn Park RFC, he also competed in the 400m at the UK athletics Championship and was world veteran indoor rowing champion. He found further fame on the BBC Superstars show that was a perfect showcase for his all-round sporting skills. At the age of 50 he gained an MPhil at Cambridge University and even tried out, unsuccessfully, for a place on the Boat Race crew. He was also an exceptional seven-a-side player and won the inaugural Sevens World Championship with England at Murrayfield in 1973. In addition to his many other talents, Ripley was a fluent linguist and worked as a rugby commentator for French television. Initially diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005, he finally succumbed to the disease after having received the Blyth Spirit Award for outstanding courage in the face of adversity at the Rugby Players' Association Awards.

Moss Keane (Ireland)

Former Munster and Ireland lock Keane was another to be taken by cancer in October this year, aged 62. The former Lansdowne second-row won 51 caps for Ireland between 1974 and 1984, including their 1982 Triple Crown victory, and also gained a Test cap for the British & Irish Lions on tour to New Zealand in 1977. He became only the third Irish forward to win 50 caps, after Willie John McBride and Fergus Slattery. Most famously, Keane was part of the Munster side that beat New Zealand 12-0 at Thomond Park in 1978 - to date the only victory by an Irish side over the All Blacks. During his youth Keane had been a devotee of Gaelic football, starring for University College Cork and winning the prestigious Sigerson Cup - the highest level of University competition. "They say you should never meet your heroes. And they may be right. Unless your hero was Moss Keane," an emotional Mick Galwey said at Keane's funeral.

Tom Walkinshaw (England)

Gloucester chairman and former Premier Rugby figurehead Walkinshaw died from cancer earlier this month aged 64. Walkinshaw took over at Kingsholm in 1997 and would later serve as chairman of Premier Rugby, the top-flight clubs' umbrella body, during a chaotic period for the newly-professional sport between 1998 and 2002. During his four-year stint as chairman, Premiership Rugby introduced the salary cap and the average attendances in the Premiership increased by 33%. Walkinshaw was also a key figure in the world of motorsport. He competed in Formula Two and Touring Cars before retiring to concentrate on his own team, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, which he launched in the late 1970s. TWR enjoyed great success in sports cars, winning Le Mans twice, before Walkinshaw moved to Formula One team Benetton in 1991 and helped recruit Michael Schumacher prior to his world title in 1994. He later took charge of Ligier and owned a controlling share in Arrows. "In so many respects, the success of professional club rugby is testament to the vision, leadership and drive of Tom Walkinshaw," said Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith.

Jeff McLean (Australia)

Former Wallabies winger McLean died in August aged 63 after a protracted battle against cancer. McLean played 13 Tests between 1971 and 1974 and was part of one of Australian rugby's most distinguished families. The McLean clan, Australian Rugby's 'Royal Family', produced six Wallabies. Coincidentally McLean's final Test, against New Zealand in Sydney in 1974, was his younger brother Paul's first. He also played a key role in Queensland's rise in the 1970s, representing his state for five years before a badly broken leg in a game between Brisbane and Queensland Country ended his career prematurely. "The rugby world is poorer for his passing," said former Wallabies skipper and Queensland Rugby Union president Tony Shaw.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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