Described by his Oxford coach, Steve Hill, as an ambitious and unflinching player on the verge of an outstanding career at the top level, the 23- year-old Keble College student collapsed after being trapped underneath an opponent after an apparently innocuous attempt at a try-saving tackle. He was taken to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in central London.
Although he had received prompt treatment on the field, his condition was so grave that specialists switched off his life-support machine some 24 hours after admitting him. The full extent of his injuries will not be made public until the completion of a post-mortem examination.
At the request of the bereaved family, Oxford's annual fixture against the Major Stanley's XV will go ahead as planned tomorrow afternoon. Saracens, who play Northampton in a Courage League match tonight, will observe a minute's silence before the game while a memorial service is being arranged at Keble and will probably go ahead on Thursday.
Mark Evans, the Saracens coach, spoke yesterday of his sadness at the tragedy. "It was a freak accident and a desperately sad one. Everyone at the club has been affected by this."
Tucker, who arrived at Oxford after graduating from Sydney University, had performed impressively in the early weeks of the season and was strongly favoured to win a place in the Varsity Match on 14 December. "He was a fantastic player who took his rugby very seriously," said Hill, who added that a number of top London clubs, including Harlequins, were keeping an eye open with a view to contracting him after the Twickenham showpiece.
He had been coached at the extraordinarily successful Australian state sporting institute and played for his country at under-19 level against New Zealand in 1992. Other honours included state appearances for New South Wales at all age levels from under-17 to under-21, and he had also represented the Australian Barbarians.
Members of the Wallaby party in Scotland for the first leg of their British tour were shaken by the news. Peter Falk, their manager, said: "We are very saddened . We are very concerned for his family because this really is a terrible tragedy."
Les Kirkpatrick, who coached Tucker at school, said: "We are devastated by the loss. In my 30 years here, few events have rocked the foundations of the school to such an extent."
It is the second time in 18 months that rugby has suffered a misfortune so severe that the petty political squabbles in which the sport habitually indulges have been put into perspective. During the 1995 World Cup, Max Brito, the Ivory Coast wing, was paralysed from the neck down in another tackling incident.
TRAGIC TOLL ON THE PLAYING FIELD
January 1970 Bernard Hinks, 37, a Maidstone player, dies in hospital following an operation to remove a blood clot after being hit in the face by the ball.
October 1971 Horsham's 21-year-old wing forward, Nigel Parker, found dead the morning after receiving a blow on his nose during a match.
January 1973 The wing-forward David Powell, 25, collapses and never regains consciousness after a scrum in a match for Cranleigh against British Caledonian.
March 1974 Stand-off Robert Wright, 23, dies after a "normal" tackle playing in a second XV match for Nottingham Casuals and Nottingham Moderns.
February 1975 Leeds policeman Ian Towns, 28, dies as a result of a clash of heads during a match.
December 1978 Police inspector David Lowe, 36, dies from injuries sustained in match between Leicestershire Police and RAF Newton, Notts.
April 1981 London rugby player John Armstrong, 25, loses his fight for life three weeks after colliding with an opponent in a match in Oxford.
August 1982 South Yorkshire schoolboy representative Simon Allen, 18, collapses and dies during training with team of school old boys.
July 1984 South African player Ockert Brits, 22, dies from a heart attack in a Currie Cup tie.
December 1984 Streatham Croydon lock-forward Nick Green, 24, collapses and dies during a match at Rugby.
January 1986 London Irish full-back Richard Cross, 28, dies after breaking his neck making a tackle at Sunbury.
October 1990 Forward Keith Bird, 33, collapses and dies in a game between North Tawton and Ilfracombe Mariners in Devon.
March 1992 West Hartlepool second row forward John Howe collapses from a heart-related illness during a match at Morley.
October 1996 Oxford University centre Ian Tucker, 23, dies in hospital two days after sustaining a head injury in a match against Saracens.Reuse content