Friday, April 10, 2015
Leicester Tigers and former New Zealand second row Brad Thorn has announced his retirement from all forms of competitive rugby at the age of 40, after what can only be described as an outstanding career that has spanned an incredible 21 years.
Having been born in New Zealand, Thorn's family moved to Australia while he was in his mid-teens. In 1994 he made his rugby league debut for the Brisbane Broncos where he stayed for 6 years, playing 130 games and scoring 22 tries.
Whilst at the Broncos, Thorn won the Rookie of the Year award, his first Premiership title and also earned a call up to the Australia side to tour Great Britain. His reputation continued to grow as he was selected for the Queensland State of Origin side three times, and went on to win a further two Premiership Rings.
During this time Thorn quickly became known as a fearless rugby player, never one to back away from a challenge, and entering every contest with a desire to come out ahead.
Union side The Crusaders were first to put pen to paper when Thorn made it clear he desired a return to his homeland, New Zealand, and signed the monster lock.
Having initially declined an opportunity to represent New Zealand at 15-aside due to his uncertainty over his commitment to the code, Thorn changed his mind and went on to play as an All Black through the 2003 Rugby World Cup, including a thrilling encounter with Wales, going on to win the Tri-Nations with the Kiwis in the same year.
History was about to repeat itself however, and the All Black lock switched back to the National Rugby League in 2005, heading back to Australia and playing for the Broncos. Before his return to union in 2008, a further three State of Origin appearances and yet another Premiership Ring were added to Thorn's collection.
Far from finished with his haul of achievements, next on the checklist was winning the Super Rugby title with The Crusaders, swiftly accomplished in 2008.
In the 2008 Tri-Nations, Thorn was banned for one week after a dangerous tackle on South African forward, John Smit. The Springbok got his revenge a year later, when he blind-sided the Kiwi lock with a powerful and entirely legal hit.
A return to the national setup welcomed more Tri-Nations trophies in 2008 and 2010. His phenomenal work-rate and obvious desire to win did not go unnoticed and Thorn was a prominent feature for the All Blacks during their successful World Cup campaign of 2011.
In 2012 he joined Irish side Leinster on a three month contract, and featuring in the starting line-up for their Heineken Cup victory meant that Thorn became the first player ever to win a World Cup, a Super Rugby title and the Heineken Cup.
Having returned once again to the southern hemisphere to join the Highlanders, Thorn played his 100th Super Rugby game against the Sharks in 2013.
An unfortunate bicep injury made it seem that his stated goal of playing until he was 40 looked to be slipping away.
An extension to his career plans however saw him sign to Aviva Premiership club Leicester Tigers in late 2014, and once he finishes his season at the English based club, Thorn has announced he will retire, and lower the curtain on a truly extraordinary and impressive rugby career.
The video below shows some of Brad Thorn's highlights. Check out page 2 for another amazing video featuring Brad that was made before a Bledisloe Cup encounter last year.
Or head to the Related Posts below this for more Brad Thorn moments
Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu signed recently for Scottish side Edinburgh, and will join them at the conclusion of the Super Rugby season in July. To go with the signing, we've pulled out this massive hit he made when just a schoolboy years back in New Zealand.
The imposing number 8 debuted for the Crusaders in 2008 at the age of 19 and played off the bench in their grand final victory that year. Manu switched over to the Highlanders in 2010 and has since become one of the franchises most consistent performers, while also amassing 71 caps for Canterbury in the ITM cup.
Injury wrote him off most of 2010 and 2013, and the Highlanders on-field performances suffered without him, 2013 in particular ending with an embarrassing 3 wins from 16 starts.
The emergence of Kieran Reed has cruelly blocked Manu from higher honours, with many considering him another victim of New Zealand's incredible breeding ground for talent.
Scottish fans will want to cool their jets though; unlike Sean Maitland, Manu does not qualify for the national side and in the past has signalled a preference to play for Tonga.
Manu's departure will leave a massive hole at the highlanders - he regularly leads the team for ball carries and tackles and captains from the front with intimidating physicality.
These are traits that have always been apparent, as this clip of Manu playing for Christchurch Boys High School in 2006 makes abundantly clear. Counter attacking from their own half Marlbrough spin the ball wide to their poor unsuspecting winger, who moments later gets absolutely crunched by a flying 17-year-old Manu.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Former Ireland international and current Harlequins head coach Conor O'Shea recently sat down with World Rugby to discuss the Six Nations stars who will impress when the Rugby World Cup rolls into England in 162 days.
Finn Russell will apparently become "a heck of a player" for Scotland, while he was also impressed with Stuart Hogg at 15 and Jonny Gray who "is young but still a key player".
For Italy, O'Shea can't look past the "untouchable" Sergio Parisse, but he also stressed the need for a goal-kicking 10.
Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc were the French picks despite hardly featuring over the spring, while Wales' biggest issue is if tighthead prop Samson Lee can be match fit before the start of the tournament.
England was more difficult but O'Shea says the player that they need back is Manu Tuilagi, while he could have chosen a whole host of players for Ireland but "Jonny Sexton is Joe Schmidt on the pitch".
Which country can go the furthest? Apparently it's hard to look beyond England at home and Ireland form-wise, especially if the Irish can keep their key players like Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy fit. Those two to play each other in the semi-final before playing a southern hemisphere country in the final.
Is there anybody you think he missed? Who will be your country's shining light?
Back in 2004 Rupeni Caucaunibuca was regarded by some as being the greatest attacking rugby player in the world. An opinion that is hard to disagree with upon evidence of this blast from the past clip of his hat-trick against the Crusaders back in February 2004.
Despite his problems in the later years "Rups" certainly shows what it takes to be a world class winger in the clip above. He displayed the perfect combination of pace, power and finishing to show what a talented force he once was.
This particular piece of brilliance helped the Auckland Blues win 38-29 on the night.
We certainly have our fingers crossed that the Fijian flyer makes good of his desire to play for Fiji in the Sevens for the upcoming 2016 Olympics, and if he manages to bring with him any of that magic from back in 2004, all the previous off-field issues will surely be forgotten.
Paul O'Connell was named the Six Nations player of the tournament recently, receiving over 26% of the public vote. This cements his place as one of the very best players in the game right now, and although we posted about him recently, this video is better.
In Greek Mythology, when Paris of Troy kidnapped Queen Helen, kings from across Greece assembled to bring their armies together to retrieve her and breach a city that had never before been breached.
Among these kings was Odysseus, cunning and clever and Achilles, a true warrior feared on the battlefield for his bravery and strength. Two captains who possessed two very different abilities without which the Greeks could not have won the battle of Troy.
Now, picture a different army, a Green army, lead by two equally famous and inspirational leaders vital to their success. Brian O'Driscoll cunning and clever and Paul O'Connell feared on the battlefield for his bravery and strength.
In 2009 and 2014 they tasted victory on the frontline together but many thought that without the quick mind of their Odysseus, Ireland would struggle in the 2015 six nations.
Such is the testament to the influence of O'Connell, unfazed by O'Driscoll's retirement he lead his team to their first back to back titles in over 30 years, as well as reaching personal milestones on the way.
Ireland now sit third in the world rankings and are looking like an army that few will want to fight as the world goes to war this September.
Regardless of Ireland's success at this World Cup, one thing is guaranteed; In thousands of years people will talk about the fearless warrior of Irish mythology. Paul O'Connell, one of the greatest soldiers the country has ever seen.
The RTE video below was made to commemorate his 100 caps for Ireland
credit: rte rugby
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
The Fox Sports Shortball highlights from Round 8 of Super Rugby are as entertaining as ever, including a Beauden Barrett wonder try, more players seeing red, and some monster hits along the way.
After another weekend of thrilling rugby, the Hurricanes notched up their seventh win of the season to remain unbeaten and spark conjecture that they could go undefeated for the year.
As the Wellington side held off a Stormers comeback to win 25-20, the talking point was Beauden Barrett's potential try of the season. Despite the fly-half getting the credit for the score, the 5-pointer will go down as one of the all time great team tries in Super Rugby.
James Horwill was red-carded and has subsequently been banned for one week following his forearm hit. His infringement cost his team dearly as The Rebels made use of their man advantage, beating the Reds 23-15 for their first home win of 2015.
Despite having Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Steyn currently serving bans, the Sharks were unable to maintain their discipline and Jean Deysel picked up a seven week suspension for kneeing an opposition player in the head.
To add insult to injury the Sharks were drubbed 52-10 by the Crusaders, who played part of the match with only 12 men for successive yellow-card offences of their own.
The Lions kept faith with their attack in Johannesburg and defeated the Bulls in the final play of the game, moving them up to 10th on the table as they got their fourth win of 2015.
Check out more Shortball videos in our Plays of the Week section
Sometimes it takes a sea change to reinvigorate yourself. Toulon playmaker Matt Giteau knows this more than most. Giteau was in Australia recently following injury, but has since returned to France, playing for Toulon in their Champions Cup Quarter Final against Wasps.
The reigning Top 14 player of the season made his international debut for the Wallabies at the age of 20, amassing 92 tests and 104 Super Rugby games before leaving the country in bitter circumstances in 2011.
Bagged by the media, his coach and fans the curtain fell down on his glittering international career with the Wallabies infamous 32-23 loss to Samoa that year.
'Exiled' to the Top 14, Giteau signed with Toulon, trading the cold of Canberra for the Mediterranean coast of Southern France.
Four years later Giteau is, considered by some, in the form of his career steering Toulon to back-to-back European championship titles and securing the Top 14-Europe double last year.
Former Toulon teammate and 2003 world cup final rival Jonny Wilkinson has gone on record saying that he can't fathom how Australian Rugby let the utility back go.
"He's exceptional, I don't quite know how a team ever let him go in Australia to come over here," Wilkinson commented late last year.
David Campese also recently included Giteau in the Australian team he would take to the 2015 World Cup, and former Wallaby coach John Connolly went further, stating Giteau was the ideal captain.
However, despite his stunning form Australia's current eligibility laws rule out any future caps for the 32 year old, automatically disqualifying overseas players.
Giteau has largely credited his turnaround to the birth of his sons, Levi and Kai, and the increased work-life balance playing in France has brought his family.
Australian fans will want to remember their names, as Levi and Kai certainly have sporting pedigree. Their mother Bianca Franklin is a professional netballer and sister to Australian Football star Buddy, while Matt's father, Ron, also captained the Canberra Raiders in the NRL.
Giteau was back in Canberra recovering from groin surgery recently so caught up with the guys from Rugby HQ about his rollercoaster career.
Would you pick him in the Wallabies squad for this year's Rugby World Cup?