Farewell to a Stalwart
by Tracey Nelson
30 May 2008
He’s been called the Invisible Man by some blinkered scribes, but Reuben Thorne will depart the Crusaders this weekend as New Zealand’s most capped player for a single franchise. He has appeared in a total of 128 games, including all eight of the Crusaders’ Super finals. He is also the only Crusader to have played in every title-winning side.
Thorne was Crusaders captain in their unbeaten season in 2002, and as All Black captain won back the Bledisloe Cup in 2003 after a five year drought against Australia. He has clocked up 50 test appearances for his country, alongside being an able servant of Crusaders and Canterbury rugby. Up until this season he had only missed five Super matches in 10 years before missing the first half of the 2007 season due to the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup conditioning programme.
As a player Thorne has always quietly gone about his role as a blindside flanker, and possibly it has been because of his natural humility both on and off the field that his deeds have, for the most part, gone unsung. Unsung outside of his team, but certainly not from within. His workrate as the ever-present back up man in the loose has been instrumental in the Crusaders’ success over the last decade. Acknowledged for his lineout abilities, his support play and defensive role has often been overlooked due to his non-flashy approach to play. The fact that three successive All Black coaches picked Thorne in their teams is probably recognition enough for what he brought to the game.
Having been part of the Crusaders for a decade, he has a pretty good insight as to what makes his team so good. “The guys who started in 1996 learnt a lot and laid foundations for what we have today. It’s been passed along through the team. I learnt a lot from those guys, and hopefully I”m trying to pass that on to the guys who are coming through now”.
It sits naturally with a player like Thorne that he has taken on a mentoring role in his latter years at the franchise, keeping faith with the Crusaders legacy. Heir apparent in the blindside role, Kieran Read, backs that up, saying “He’s been a great servant of Crusaders and Canterbury rugby and he’s got so much knowledge. He’s a great man and helps you out as much as he can”.
As for having been a Crusader for ten years, Thorne’s thoughts are “I’ve enjoyed it the whole way through. When you’re enjoying something you tend to stick around and you just want more and more of it. That’s what happened to me and it’s been great fun”.
Always humble, he is quick to attribute his record number of appearances to his team mates. “It’s nice. I guess it’s just a product of our success. We’ve played more games as a team and I’ve been lucky to be part of it”. When asked about how much he would like to leave on a winning note this Saturday night, Thorne played down the emotional side of things saying “It would be an amazing way to finish. Just the occasion itself (being a final) is going to take all our attention. Maybe after the final whistle there will be time to reflect on it and suck it up one last time”.
Certainly if the rugby gods are looking down on Christchurch this weekend they couldn’t help but smile down on player who has quietly and calmly achieved an illustrious career over the years, and is held in such esteem by his team mates that they coined a song formed only of his name to celebrate winning Super titles. So what does the man think of that? “It’s embarrassing – but it’s nice in a way, and it would be great to hear it one last time”.
I couldn’t agree more.