Barry Thomas, one of the heroes of Auckland's memorable Ranfurly Shield era of 1959-63, has died in Auckland after a lengthy illness, aged 80.

Thomas, an excellent tight forward, known always by his nickname, "Bear," mainly because of his sturdy physique, was usually a prop who in his early representative days faced stiff competition for a regular spot from the likes of Wilson Whineray and Snow White. But because his work ethic was so invaluable to the Auckland pack he was often used as a lock, despite not being quite tall enough for that position.

As a specialist prop Thomas might have enjoyed an equally illustrious international career had it not been for bad luck with injuries. These limited him to just four All Black appearances, the third test against the touring Wallabies at Eden Park in 1962 and all three when the Wallabies again toured New Zealand in 1964.

After a successful test debut in 1962, Thomas looked set for a long All Black tenure, only to be struck down by injury early in the 1963 season, which ruled him out of the two home tests against England and for the 1963-64 tour of Britain and France.

His replacement in the touring side was Ken Gray, who soon established himself as one of New Zealand's greatest props.

Thomas regained his All Black position in 1964 when Whineray was unavailable, but with Whineray's return as captain in 1965, and with Gray now the premier prop, Thomas missed the series against the Springboks.

But he was an All Black trialist up until 1968, and in 1965 was in the Auckland side which beat the Springboks and then Taranaki to win the Ranfurly Shield.

While the bulk of his provincial career was with Auckland for whom he played 86 games, Thomas spent the 1964 season in Wellington and in nine representative games partnered Gray in an effective front row.

He was a coach and administrator of Auckland's Manukau club, later a keen bowler and stalwart of the Barbarians. Two sons, Greg and Kevin appeared briefly at first class level.