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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Tuesday, January 26th 2021

Obituary: Peter Thorburn

Bristol Bears regret to announce the death at the age of 81 of Peter Thorburn.

Peter was a highly respected coach from New Zealand who worked with Bristol for two seasons, initially as forwards’ coach and then as head coach.

Peter Robert Tyler Thorburn was born in Auckland in 1939 and educated at Mount Albert Grammar School. As a player he was a back row forward for the North Shore club, and he played for Auckland between 1965 and 1970. However, it was as a coach that he really stamped his mark on the game. The North Harbour Rugby Union was founded in 1985 when a number of clubs split from Auckland, and Peter was appointed as the new province’s first coach, working in this capacity until 1991 and then returning for another stint in 1997. He also coached the New Zealand Sevens squad from 1988 to 1990 and served two spells as an All Black selector.

Peter came to Bristol during the latter part of the 2001-02 season, a season which saw the club reach the Zurich Championship final at Twickenham and qualify for the following season’s Heineken Cup. Dean Ryan was head coach at the time, but when he left in the summer to become assistant director of rugby at Gloucester, Peter, who had initially been signed on a three month deal, was offered Ryan’s post with a two year contract.

The 2002-03 season was an eventful and controversial one in Bristol’s history, culminating in relegation from the Premiership, but there were some memorable highlights for the team under Peter’s guidance. These included a brave Heineken Cup campaign which featured a memorable victory in Montferrand, plus a cherished Premiership double over Bath. Bristol’s November 2002 victory at the Rec was their first at the ground in 21 years, and the return fixture at Ashton Gate was a thrilling match in front of a Premiership record crowd. Bristol also defeated the USA at the Memorial Stadium in early April.

Peter still had a year to run on his contract at the end of the 2002-03 season, but he returned to New Zealand before that next season began. He was appointed coach of the USA in 2006, and he took them to the World Cup the following year. Peter’s devotion to North Harbour rugby was recognised in 2006 when he was made a life member of the union. In 2013 he was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the game. Peter Thorburn will be remembered fondly by many as a passionate and influential rugby man.  All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Peter’s family and friends at this sad time.     


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