The Great John Thornett Dies
John Thornett, a great leader of men and a great rugby gentleman, has died at a nursing home in Batemans Bay, some 300km south of Sydney, at the age of 83. He had long been ill.
One of three rugby playing brothers, John was a star pupil at Sydney Boys’ High, one of the city’s Great Public Schools. He excelled in leadership (head boy), academics and rugby, swimming and rowing. From school he went to Sydney University to read engineering.
He was chosen for New South Wales at rugby and then in 1955 he became a Wallaby playing, first as a flank, in three Tests against the All Blacks in 1955. He went on to become just the second Australian to play 100 matches for the Wallabies (after Nick Shehadie) in a career that lasted till 1967 and included 37 Tests. Like the great Boy Louw, he was a versatile forward, playing in Tests at loose forward, lock and prop. He captained the Wallabies from 1962 to 1967.
His brothers, Dick and Ken, became rugby league internationals. Dick, who also played for Australia at waterpolo, was in the Wallaby side with John when they toured South Africa in 1961, under the captaincy of Ken Catchpole. The bothers played in both Tests, which the springboks won comfortably. But it is claimed that what Wallabies learnt on this trip was scrummaging, which stood them in good stead when John captained the great 1963 Wallaby side which came close to beating the Springboks in the four-Test series. their Springboks won the fourth Test to share the series. Things were better in 1965 when he led the Wallabies to victory in both Tests against the touring Springboks.
His last hurrah was to captain the Wallabies on their tour of the UK, Ireland and France. An early dose of impetigo kept him out of rugby for part of the tour and he played only the last Test, against France in Paris, which France won. In all he captained Australia in 16 Tests in days when there were far fewer Tests than nowadays.
In 1966, John Thornett was made MBE. In 1985 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and in 2005 to the Australian Rugby Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame – a man much honoured
Retired from playing, Thornett wrote a manual on rugby coaching and was elected vice-president of New South Wales Rugby Union.
John Thornett was revered for his playing ability, his leadership and for his gentlemanly, sporting contribution to the spirit of the game.
John Edward Thornett was born on 30 March 1935 and died on 4 January 2019, survived by his wife Vivienne who was at his bedside when he died.