By NZ Herald

Former All Blacks selector and North Harbour coach Peter Thorburn has passed away following a short illness. He was 81.


Thorburn was the inaugural coach of North Harbour when the union formed in 1985 as a breakaway from Auckland. He also led the New Zealand Sevens team before Gordon Tietjens took over in 1994.

He had two stints as an All Black selector, first in the early 1990s and then between 2000 and 2001.

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Thorburn also coached the United States at the 2007 World Cup and Bristol in the English Premiership between 2002 and 2003, and was renowned for his insatiable appetite for watching rugby.

North Harbour Rugby confirmed his death in a social media post.

“Our thoughts go to the family and friends of Peter who was such an instrumental person in the formation of the Union, but also so respected for more than just his coaching by all rugby people, “said North Harbour Rugby chairman Gerard van Tilborg said in a statement.

“Peter was always an astute thinker around the game. He was inspirational to a huge number of players and coaches creating many original and creative plays which became a hallmark of North Harbour rugby with high entertainment and player flair. He will be well remembered fondly and missed by all who knew him.”


He was made a Life Member of the North Harbour Union in 2005, the third person ever to be given this honour.

In 2013 Thorburn he received the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to rugby.

It was a listing in the Herald that convinced Thorburn that rugby players north of the harbour bridge needed their own union.

In 1977 the Herald published the names of trialists for the Auckland U17 rugby team.


“There were 117 names and only three from the other side of the bridge,” he told the newspaper in 2013.

When the union came into existence in 1985, Thorburn was the head coach. Harbour’s elevation to the NPC’s first division in just its third season was the highlight of a 47-year career playing, coaching and administrating rugby, he said in 2013.

This article first appeared on and was republished with permission.

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