RWC 2011: New skipper Horwill tipped to make impact
Story and Photo: www.rugbyworldcup.com
AUCKLAND, 1 Sept. - James Horwill has been given a five-star endorsement from one of his idols as Australia's new skipper bids to add a Rugby World Cup to the Tri Nations title his Wallabies sealed in Brisbane.
Fellow Queenslander and World Cup-winning number 8 Toutai Kefu believes Horwill has the potential to become as effective as England great Martin Johnson.
Given that Johnson was the captain of England's 2003 World Cup winning team and is now England manager, rising star Horwill is more than happy with the comparison.
A 60-cap performer for the Wallabies, Kefu is Tonga's lineout coach and said the selection of the Queensland Reds skipper and second row is significant.
"He's in the same mould as Martin Johnson, a very aggressive and abrasive player who doesn't take a backward step," said the 1999 Webb Ellis Cup winner.
"They won't know much about him in England yet, but he's going to be a fantastic player for the Wallabies."
"That is a huge rap," said Horwill after he led Australia to their first Tri Nations title since 2001 with a 25-20 victory over New Zealand in Brisbane on 27 August in his first match in charge.
"I used to love watching Toutai Kefu and the likes of John Eales play, so it is humbling to hear a guy, who is one of Queensland's greats, say that."
Horwill took over as captain from Rocky Elsom and knows that Johnson's men loom large in New Zealand. Both sides could meet in the semi-finals.
"I've played England only once, in 2009, when we won, but they are always a very tough side," Horwill said.
"I thought the game they played against us over there (at Twickenham in November when England won 35-18) was some of the best rugby I've seen them play as a group since 2003.
''They have a lot of youngsters coming through and they are expanding their game.
''Previously, they were known for having a forward-dominated game but they now have the strike power out wide to play both. They are only growing and they are big threats."
Horwill spent all of last season on the sidelines after undergoing a knee reconstruction, returning to lead Queensland in all except two matches of this year's Super 15-winning season. It was some turnaround.
The Reds collected the wooden spoon in 2007 - a 92-3 drubbing by the Bulls capping a forgettable year. The Bulls won the Super title and the nucleus of the side carried South Africa to World Cup glory in the same season.
This was not lost on Horwill, who is hoping the Reds players can do the same for Australia.
"Whether it transfers to international success is another thing, but history suggests that it does," Horwill said.
"It's been a fantastic turnaround for Queensland rugby and I am extremely proud to be a part of it.
"I think the more they play the better they get. Will Genia and Quade Cooper have played together for a long time with the Reds and they are now getting more time in the Tests. We've certainly got some gifted athletes now.
"There is also more depth in the forwards this time - you just have to look at the squad. A lot of guys are pushing for selection, so we won't lose momentum if there is an injury."
As for his own well-being, Horwill has no doubts. "The knee is fine," he said. "The surgeon has all the faith it is back to normal and it feels just like it did before."