20 Brad Thorn [2003-2011] CAPS 59
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.”
ON THE FIELD HE HAS A HARD EDGE, BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY, AND HE GIVES HIS ALL TO HIS TEAMMATES... HE IS AN INSPIRATION.’ GRAHAM HENRY
MAGIC MOMENT Brad Thorn cried when the All Blacks won the World Cup in 2011.