The Australian rugby community is mourning the loss of Wallabies captain John Thornett, 83, who passed away on Friday.

Thornett, considered one of the greats of Australian rugby, fought a long battle with illness.

Nicknamed “Thorn” in a similar vein to cricket’s Don Bradman because of his immense influence on the sport, Thornett played 37 Tests for the Wallabies and led the side on four tours in his career.

Playing lock, flanker and both sides of the scrum as a prop, Thornett carved his reputation as one of the most versatile forwards in Australian rugby history.

A graduate of Sydney Boys High, he joined Sydney Uni and won three premierships in three seasons with the Students, from 1953-55.

The eldest of three brothers, John’s brother Ken represented Australia in rugby league and the third, Dick, was a dual international.

Thornett debuted for NSW against Queensland in 1955, going on to make his Wallabies debut later that year, as flanker against the All Blacks. 

The forward led Australia for the first time in 1962 and captained the country to its first major Test series win, beating South Africa in consecutive Tests for the first time in 1965.

He started in all of his 37 Tests and finished on 118 matches overall, just the second player at the time to play 100 matches for Australia behind Nicolas Shehadie.

After his international retirement in 1968, he played for Norths in the Sydney competition, playing 126 matches and leading the team to five consecutive grand finals.

Thornett’s mark on the Sydney competition is still being acknowledged today with Uni and Norths playing off for the John Thornett Cup in recent years.

He is a member of the Sports Australia, Australian rugby and World Rugby halls of fame and is one of 11 legends in the World Rugby list.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle paid tribute to Thornett after news of his passing on Friday.

“John Thornett played Rugby for the love of the game and at all times treasured its values of mateship and sportsmanship,” she said.

“There was nothing he would not do for the game, and his team, which is why his name is synonymous with Australian pride and great leadership.”

Current Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said Thornett was still an inspiration for the players of today.

“John set an example for so many in Australian Rugby,” he said.

“When I sit down and chat with former Wallabies about their time in the gold jersey, they all speak glowingly of John and in awe of how he played on the field and how he represented himself, and Australia, off it.”

Norths life member Ross Tulloch said Thornett’s influence was as important off the field as on.

“He was the heart and soul of life on tour, not just for what he did on the field,” Tulloch said.

“‘Thorn’ made everyone feel welcome and part of the team, working away at one goal.”