Thorn looking to end on high
Auckland - Lock Brad Thorn will bring to an end the major part of an extraordinary professional career when he plays for the All Blacks against France in Sunday's final of the Rugby World Cup.
A small postscript has still to be added. The 36-year-old Thorn will end almost 20-years as a professional athlete - two decades in which he has represented Australia at rugby league and New Zealand at rugby union - by playing club rugby in Japan for the Fukuoka Sanix Blues.
The World Cup final offers Thorn the chance of a last hurrah on the international stage, the chance to end on its highest note a career in which he has won grand finals in Australia's National Rugby League, played for victorious Queensland State of Origin teams, won Super rugby titles with the Crusaders and become the quiet workhorse of the All Blacks forward pack.
What it might mean to Thorn was evident in his demeanor during New Zealand's 20-6 semi-final win over Australia last weekend. When the All Blacks wrecked a Wallabies scrum in the 71st minute, winning the penalty that sealed the game, the usually undemonstrative Thorn raised his arms in a whooping, fist-pumping salute that emphasised his delight at reaching the final.
Now he wants to win the final to bring his international career to an end with an emphatic punctuation point. The pleasure he had taken from the semi-final win was short-lived and he quickly set his sights on the Sunday's match.
"You have to enjoy the moments," Thorn said. "A lot of work goes into a test match and after a match you enjoy it, but you know there is another test to come.
"Do you think anyone will care who won the semi-final? No, no one will care. It is what happens this weekend and we have got world-class opposition coming up against us."
Thorn admitted Sunday's match could be bitter sweet, even if the All Blacks win the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.
"For me, whatever happens, there's a bit a of sadness because this is my last game in the All Black jersey," he said. "It's a pretty special time for me."
All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen spoke on Thursday of the professionalism Thorn had brought to the New Zealand team.
Thorn switched from rugby league to rugby union in 2001, quitting the Brisbane Broncos after playing 130 NRL matches to join the Crusaders in rugby's Super 14. After only two seasons he won selection for the All Blacks, qualifying through his New Zealand mother and despite having played rugby league for Australia in 1998.
He returned to Australia in 2005 and played a further 70 NRL matches for the Broncos, pushing his career tally to 200. Then, in 2007, rejoined the Crusaders and the All Blacks for whom he has now played 58 tests.
Hansen said Thorn brought dedication and vast experience to the All Blacks squad.
"He's easy to coach," he said. "Just give him something to push, give him something to tackle, give him something to catch and he's happy. Give him three feeds a day, just make sure they're big ones.
"He's a big strong man. He's a very passionate person and he's been a professional sportsman for probably about 20 years.
"What does he bring to the team? He brings all that experience of 20 years as a professional. He's always the first guy doing the stretches, the first guy making sure his dietary requirements are right, he's the first guy doing his recovery and he knows he has to because he's 36-years-old. But it's something that he's done all his life and I think that's why he's still playing at 36."
Thorn faced criticism over his form prior to the World Cup, notably from former All Blacks lock Andy Haden who called him "a donkey."
Hansen accepted Thorn's form had been mixed at times but said he was a player who saved his best for the big occasion.
"From a form point of view I think probably it hasn't been as good as it has been but I think you have to expect that at 36," he said.
"This year for him has been about trying to win the Super 15 and trying to win the World Cup and for those of us who have played sport and have played in a team for a long time, whatever the sport is, sometimes some fixtures are more important than others and the biggest fixture that he can ever play in is coming on Sunday. I think his form will be OK."
Australia captain James Horwill also praised the departing Thorn, his locking rival in the semi-final.
"He's pretty much done everything, this is probably the last box he's got to tick in every sense," Horwill said. "He's won with the Broncos, he's won NRL championships, State of Origins ... any tournament trophy I guess he can win he's won except for this. He'll probably have a pretty full mantelpiece after this. He's a guy, every game you go out, you know you're in for a tough night at the office.
"Every time he carries the ball he carries it hard, he hits hard in the rucks and hits hard in defense. He's consistent and it's the best part of his game. No one ever says he has a bad game. I think he's a big reason why the All Blacks have been very successful."