20 Brad Thorn [2003-2011] CAPS 59

NZ Rugby World - - Outside Influences -

It would have been next to im­pos­si­ble for any All Black whose time in the team co­in­cided to not have been in­spired and in­flu­enced by Brad Thorn.

He brought di er­ent, en­dear­ing qual­i­ties to the All Blacks. He had a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion, com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence and re­lent­less de­sire to be bet­ter that forced even the most sea­soned and es­tab­lished All Blacks to look hard at them­selves and ask if they could be giv­ing more.

The first qual­ity that Thorn made ob­vi­ous he pos­sessed was in­tegrity. Af­ter a pro­longed stint in the NRL, where he had played State of Ori­gin and for the Kan­ga­roos, he de­cided he wanted to head back to New Zealand – the land of his birth – and give rugby a de­cent crack.

He was signed by Can­ter­bury in 2001 and he tried to set­tle in his new code as a No 8. It didn’t work out well. He strug­gled and never felt com­fort­able, never felt like he got on top of the role.

But no mat­ter, come Oc­to­ber that year, he was named in the All Blacks squad to tour Europe. Thorn wasn’t sure about that.

He didn’t feel he nec­es­sar­ily de­served it, nor was he con­vinced that he was go­ing to stay in rugby.

He could have gone on the tour and won a test cap, tick­ing o a life­long am­bi­tion of play­ing for the All Blacks, but he didn’t feel good about that. So he turned down his se­lec­tion. Told coach John Mitchell that he had mixed feel­ings and that it wouldn’t be right for him to go.

He also re­vealed that he wanted to take a year o all sport so he did – trav­elled the world with his part­ner and de­cided, at the end of that, he’d come back to rugby in 2003.

He was hap­pier, clearer in his mind and also shifted to lock, which paid div­i­dends be­cause he started to nail his game and gen­uinely earned his All Blacks se­lec­tion when it came in 2003.

He re­turned to the NRL in 2004 and ev­ery­one thought that would be it for him in terms of rugby, but in­cred­i­bly he re­turned to the Cru­saders in 2008 at 33.

He played so well he forced his way back into the All Blacks and stayed there for four years, be­com­ing an in­te­gral part of the side that won the 2011 World Cup.

He was a bruis­ing ball car­rier, thump­ing tack­ler, heavy scrum­mager and in­creas­ingly bet­ter aerial for­ward. His fit­ness lev­els were up there and he was one of the strong­est play­ers in the team.

It was in his sec­ond stint that Thorn had the most in­flu­ence. It was the fact that he could re­turn to test rugby af­ter four years out of the game that set him apart and he was able to do that for a num­ber of rea­sons.

The first was that Thorn, af­ter be­ing a bit wild in his ear­lier days, gave up drink­ing in his mid-twen­ties. In­stead of big nights on the booze, he in­stead found God and lived his life by a di er­ent code.

Not only did he kick the booze, he em­braced a tough train­ing regime, was al­ways stretch­ing, work­ing on his core strength and flex­i­bil­ity, and with the church a big part of his life, he was happy and con­tent.

What Thorn did was in­stil, by ex­am­ple, the deep­est ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what be­ing pro­fes­sional meant. He showed that age was ir­rel­e­vant to per­for­mance and that if play­ers looked af­ter them­selves they could play well into their late thir­ties.

“He is a tower of strength to the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby and is the ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional – pro­fes­sion­al­ism which has been honed over 17 years of top-level foot­ball,” All Blacks coach Gra­ham Henry said when Thorn an­nounced he would be re­tir­ing from test foot­ball af­ter the 2011 World Cup.

“On the field he has a hard edge, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, and he gives his all to his team­mates. O field, he un­ob­tru­sively en­sures oth­ers are pro­gress­ing well. He is an in­spi­ra­tion.”


MAGIC MO­MENT Brad Thorn cried when the All Blacks won the World Cup in 2011.

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