Thorn still leads way as world cup looms

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NZPA     11 Jun 2010     Gettys Images

Ask any of his fellow forwards who took on the 35-year-old at fitness training sessions in Auckland last week.

He blitzed them in the dreaded 'beep test' (admittedly, captain Richie McCaw was resting a minor niggle), then was heading for the team bus when told Jerome Kaino had won the chin-ups test with a weight pack strapped to him.

The story goes that Thorn grabbed the pack, clutched the chin-up bar and made sure he matched Kaino's count before heading away, unbeaten.

The only test the 1.96m, 116kg lock will concede is against the powerlifting Franks brothers, Owen and Ben, who will combine with their Crusaders teammate for the All Blacks against Ireland on Saturday.

"They take care of the lower body and I dominate the upper body. There's mutual respect. They're very strong in the gym and I sort of stand over in the corner," Thorn laughed.

Seven years since he made his All Blacks debut, with a National Rugby League (NRL) premiership with Brisbane in between, Thorn remains confident of playing in next year's World Cup when he'll be nearing 37.

None of his teammates would doubt him either as he flew into his work for the Crusaders this year then eyed the All Blacks season with his usual enthusiasm.

"I feel great. It comes back to coming from 10 years of league, there's no stopping with rep games thrown in on top of club games. About 13 games of Super 14 is a solid hitout but it's not 26 straight. I've had a week or two off now so I feel great."

The 37-test lock, who played every All Blacks' test except Italy in Milan last year, was further enthused by the emergence of the Franks brothers.

"They're gold, those two guys. It's a pleasure for me to play with them. When Greg Somerville left he left a big hole for me because he was a really good mate, then young guys like Owen and Ben come in and within a year you're really tight with them.

"The way they train and the way they play their footy, it's probably similar to the way I do. I really enjoy having them around. We just want to get stuck in and enjoy our rugby on Saturday."

Despite his marathon season in 2009, a month in Queensland with his wife and four young children over summer revived Thorn and, apart from having to stretch a bit more these days, his age wasn't a factor.

Asked if the World Cup remained high on the radar, Thorn said: "I hope so. It's about 14 months away so hopefully I can last all the tests this year then I've got the summer again to sit on a beach and see how I feel. It's the best way to refresh.

"The beaches in Australia are pretty good. It's not to say I don't love it here but it's just not the same sitting on Brighton beach in Christchurch."