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Australian rugby lost one of its all-time greats when John Thornett died in a Batemans Bay nursing home last night, aged 83.
‘Thorn’ had been ill for some time, but he’ll always be remembered with reverence as one of the great Wallaby captains. He was skipper for 16 of his 37 caps between 1955 and 1967, including eight overseas tours.
Tough as teak, with a placid but commanding voice, he began his international career as a breakaway before moving into the second row and later ending his stellar career as one of the world’s best props.
Recognition for Thornett was universal with an Australian Sports Medal in 2000, one of the five inaugural inductees in the Australia Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005, and inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2015.
I’ll always remember “Thorn” as not only a gentleman and a gentle man, but one helluva rugby international.
His leadership in tandem with the greatest halfback of all-time, Ken Catchpole, put Australia on the world rugby map, especially on the 1963 tour of South Africa which the Wallabies went within a sniff of winning against the odds.
But ‘Thorn’ was also the senior member of the incredibly talented trio of Thornett brothers. He was two years older than Ken and five years older than Dick, and all were internationals.
Ken was a rugby league fullback who claimed 12 Kangaroo caps out of Parramatta, while Dick was a three-sport international having won 11 Wallaby caps, 11 Kangaroo caps, and represented Australia in water polo at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
The trio were magnificent footballers in their own right, and for a short while in tandem.
‘Thorn’ and Dick shared the Wallaby second row in 1961 and 1962, while Ken and Dick played together on the 1963-1964 Kangaroo tour.
The three of them were very different in nature, but all really good blokes to share a beer – and that was often.
Sadly, all three are no longer with us.
Dick died in 2011, aged 71, Ken was 78 when he died in 2016.
But for those privileged to know them, they will never be forgotten.