James Horwill committed to Australian cause despite demotion to bench

Former captain ready to make impact in first Test of the season against France

James Horwill and Israel Folau share a joke during an Australian Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 3rdin Gold Coast, Australia. Getty Images

James Horwill and Israel Folau share a joke during an Australian Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 3rdin Gold Coast, Australia. Getty Images


Having led Australia into a World Cup and helped secure the nation’s first Southern Hemisphere title in a decade, former captain James Horwill finds himself a support act for the Wallabies’ first Test of the season against France.

By his own rating, the 29-year-old lock enjoyed his most consistent season in three years for the embattled Queensland Reds in Super Rugby, but has been squeezed out of the starting side for today’s match in Brisbane. His former team mate at club level, hooker Stephen Moore, will lead the Wallabies out, while coach Ewen McKenzie has eschewed Horwill’s 48 international caps of experience in favour of a rookie.

Uncapped 24-year-old Sam Carter, who has impressed for the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies, will partner the more established Rob Simmons in the locking positions. A mainstay in the starting side under former coach Robbie Deans, Horwill will have to adjust to a new role as an impact player off the bench.

“It’s a little bit different but that’s part of rugby these days,” Horwill said. “It’s different for me but I’m trying to do anything I can to help the team. Whatever impact I can make off the bench, I’ll do to the best of my ability. You want competition. Ewen said that. Performance is king. Whatever chance I get, I want to perform well.” Spiritual leader

Horwill’s heart has never been worn anywhere but his sleeve, and his tears after the Wallabies’ tight win in the second Test of last year’s British and Irish Lions series in Melbourne reinforced his standing as the team’s spiritual leader. He was replaced as captain by Brumbies backrower Ben Mowen for last year’s season-ending tour of Europe and has been superseded in the Wallabies’ leadership group by vice captains Adam Ashley-Cooper and Michael Hooper.

The demotion may be hard to swallow but Horwill said he would gladly defer to Moore, who has amassed 91 caps and is seen as a firm enforcer of team discipline. “I think Steve is an excellent choice for captain. He’s a wonderful person and he deserves it,” Horwill said. “He’ll do a brilliant job. . . . I’m always here to help if he needs it but I certainly won’t be pushing anything on him.”

Injuries, departures and McKenzie’s pledge to reward form over reputation will see a much different Wallabies lineup take to Lang Park than the side that kicked off last year’s season at the same stadium with a narrow loss to the Lions.

Horwill’s relegation to the bench has raised eyebrows, but not caused the level of consternation among some local pundits for the omission of another former Wallabies captain in Will Genia, widely rated one of the world’s finest scrumhalves. Genia was picked in McKenzie’s 32-man squad but was not deemed worthy of a place in the reserves. “You want guys that are competitive. Will’s a world-class player and he’ll keep working at it,” Horwill said.

The final two matches in the three-Test series against France are in Melbourne (June 14th) and Sydney (June 21sst).

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