Sunday is going to be an emotional day for every New Zealander, be they a fan or connection to one of the 22 All Blacks that will take the field at Eden Park. For one man though, it will mean just that little be more, win or lose.
Bradley Carnegie Thorn is no young buck at 36. His record of being the oldest All Black ever is something to be proud of considering the closest rival to that title is Frank Bunce, however on Sunday he will get the chance to go one step further than Bunce managed to in the 1991 and 1995 Rugby World Cup tournaments. Winning the Webb Ellis Cup on Sunday would be arguably the biggest achievement amongst Thorn’s astonishing set of accolades.
Two stints in both Rugby League and Rugby Union since 1994 have seen Thorn play for some of the greatest clubs in both codes, representing the Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australia in League and the Canterbury Crusaders and the All Blacks in Rugby Union. Few players have run out for such an esteemed collection of sides. It is the measure of Thorn’s quality that he has done so much with such great success, and only one of two people to win a Super Rugby and NRL final. Over 50 caps for the All Blacks and 200 NRL performances later though, the legs are starting to give way.
The key to his prolonged success has been a combination of grit and personal preservation. One of Test Rugby’s great enforcers, particularly since his return to Union in 2008 filling the void left by Chris Jack for the All Blacks, Thorn’s hard-hitting of rucks and bodies has won him many admirers, his physicality at the breakdown a key ingredient to the All Blacks reliance on pace and power. It is the game’s real hardmen that people remember best; Willie John McBride, Martin Johnson, Colin Meads to name just a few. Winning the World Cup on Sunday would certainly put Thorn up there with those greats.
The ability to keep Thorn’s aggressive style of play going at 36 means that he has had to make a few sacrifices along the way. Steve Hansen has praised his professionalism in working intently on his diet and physical training in order to make sure he can play at his best in his latter years. Video footage has shown him being a monster both on the gym and on the paddock, and whilst his tackles weren’t always necessarily on the correct side of legality, he has left a lasting impression.
With over 15 years of playing under his belt, what endears him so much to the All Black coaching triumvirate of Hansen, Graham Henry and Wayne Smith is his experience of big games, and more importantly big finals. Losing the Super Rugby final this year with the Crusaders against the Queensland Reds took it out of Thorn emotionally, as it was his final appearance for the side. He will not want to feel the same way during his final run out as an All Black. Not on his watch anyway.
by Ben Coles