Jeremy Thrush's elevation to the All Blacks training squad is a victory for perseverance and professionalism, according to his Hurricanes forwards coach Richard Watt.
Nine years after being named the IRB world under-19 player of the year, Thrush finds himself on the cusp of achieving a dream that seemed at times to have drifted beyond his reach.
"He's never let go of that, he's always had that burning desire to wear that black jersey," Watt said yesterday. "Apart from giving everything for his franchise and his province, he's kept chasing that dream.
"Over the last two years I've never seen him work so hard, but this season in particular I've seen a real shift. He's always had a good attitude, but knowing he's only a step away has really motivated him to a new level."
With Brad Thorn retired, Anthony Boric's career in doubt due to a neck injury, and Craig Clarke heading to Ireland, the door was ajar at the start of the season.
When Ali Williams retired from international rugby last week Thrush got the callup to join Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Dominic Bird in the extended All Blacks squad.
Sam Whitelock's subsequent broken finger means a test debut against France next month is not out of the question for the 28-year-old Wellingtonian.
Watt tears his hair out when he hears people writing off tight forwards after a few wobbly performances early in their careers.
"Some of the boys in the small numbers take longer to learn their trade. They might be 20-21 getting a hiding from an 80-test veteran Springbok or Wallaby or All Black in this country.
"When they get to 25-26 they have that maturity and if they work hard then the backend of the 20s is where they really start coming good."
At set piece Thrush is regarded as one of the best scrummaging locks in the country and has been a go-to man for the Hurricanes at lineout time.
But there have been legitimate questions over his body height at the cleanout and carrying the ball into contact.
Watt believes his form in South Africa this year against the Bulls and Cheetahs showcased the improvements he's made in both of those areas.
"I guess that's why those people are in the pub talking about it because they're uniformed," Watt said of those who are questioning Thrush's credentials. "He was the IRB under-19 world player of the year [in 2004] and he's always been an athlete.
"But the thing with Thrushy is he's a real professional now. His work ethic is huge. He's identified the weaknesses in his game and worked really hard on them."
- The Dominion Post
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