June International Tours

Former Aussie mates clash in Italy v AB test


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A switch of countries and codes means two former Australian rugby league team-mates will face each other in Saturday’s rugby union Test between Italy and New Zealand.

Craig Gower played league in Australia but later switched to union. He now plays for Italy – courtesy of an Italian grandfather.

New Zealand-born Brad Thorn (pictured) also played league in Australia, having been raised there, but switched codes to play for the All Blacks.

The two played several rugby league Tests for Australia in the late 1990s and, as Gower recalled on Thursday, they were often room-mates.

“We played for Australia together, and we roomed together,” the 31-year-old fly-half said.

“It’s just amazing how this can happen,” Thorn said.

Gower, whose rugby league career was blighted by a number of alcohol-related, off-field incidents, is now being hailed as the possible saviour of Italian rugby.

“What’s important is how he’s behaved subsequent to playing rugby union, and while I was aware of the issues in the past I think a player’s allowed a second chance,” Italian coach Nick Mallett said.

“I think he’s very grateful to Italy for giving him this second chance and obviously we’re expecting him to pay back the Italian team by his performances on the field.

“He’s a good passer, he attacks the line well, understands space, he’s very competitive, he brings a lot of big match temperament to that position.

“In the two games he’s played already for Italy he’s shown enough on the field to convince me and all his team-mates that he’s definitely a player who brings a lot of international class to our backline.”

While Gower and Thorn have socialised in the build-up to the Test, Gower warned there will be no friendship when the match starts.

“I’m sure we’ll meet out there some time. He’ll come running at me and we’ll see how we go”.

It could, however, be something of a mismatch – All Blacks lock Thorn is listed at 1.96 metres (6 feet 4 inches) and 113 kilograms (249 pounds), while Gower is 22 centimetres shorter and 23 kilos lighter.

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