Thorn's desire to win is sore point
Sam Whitelock is in an impeccable position to remind team-mates how much new Highlanders lock Brad Thorn loathes losing.
Whitelock, who locked the All Blacks' scrum alongside Thorn when they won the World Cup, was mentored by the dual international after being promoted into the Crusaders in 2010.
During that period Whitelock observed Thorn drain himself during matches and is now preparing for the unusual sight of watching him in Highlanders colours during their pre-season match against the Crusaders in Oamaru on Friday.
It's not just the games with an oval ball that get Thorn pumped, Whitelock laughed.
"Yeah, he just loves winning. He will cheat in cards if he is not winning; he will cheat in anything."
Whitelock will have to wait until the season proper before he confronts Thorn on the field for the first time in his life.
Along with fellow All Blacks Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Owen Franks, he will be rested from Friday's fixture.
Thorn, now 38, is just as demanding on the training field as he is at the cards table.
He expects those around him to strive for excellence and is not above issuing a curt order to loose forwards who don't assist their tight five in scrums.
"I think any of the guys who have played with Brad have taken something from him," Whitelock said.
"Everyone, especially in this environment, knows Brad really well and knows his traits and the things he really prides himself on.
"Hopefully we get out there and have a good game of it and after it is all over, sit down and have a beer and give each other a bit of stick, I suppose."
Last year, in a column on a rugby website, former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith emphasised Thorn's competitive streak: "He defended his records to the death and when he got overtaken, he kept going back until he beat you. Hosea Gear once bench-pressed 185kg or something. That got Brad cracking again," Smith wrote.
"Another time there was a biceps measure-off. Who had the biggest? Someone unexpected like Stephen Donald came out on top. Brad couldn't believe it. He went off to do bench curls and then kept coming back to be remeasured. He must have returned 15 times to have his biceps rechecked."
Before he left for Japan soon after the World Cup Thorn indicated his playing days in New Zealand were numbered.
That argument gained credence when he linked with Irish club Leinster last year, and won a Heineken's Cup medal, before returning to Japan.
The nonstop grind of professional rugby - Mosgiel-born Thorn has not had an extended break since the southern hemisphere 2010-11 summer - was expected to extinguish any likelihood of returning to New Zealand.
"Obviously Brad was brought up for the first few years of his life down there [in Otago], and he always ummed and ahhed about going home as such," Whitelock said.
"When it was announced, it was cool ... he is obviously excited about going back to his roots."
- © Fairfax NZ News