Horne hopes for a return but faces competition
"I played those June Tests ... so [the injury] is not a scary thing, I know exactly what I have to do and I'm doing it" ... Wallabies centre Ben Horne. Photo: Getty Images
Wallabies centre Rob Horne had a taste of injury-free life earlier this year and he's not prepared to give it up too easily.
Horne had enjoyed one of his most consistent and uninterrupted seasons with the Waratahs and had strengthened his hold on the starting outside-centre Test position until a hamstring strain ended his Wallabies opportunities early.
The injury, incurred during Southern Districts' Shute Shield semi-final against Manly in September, might have rattled a player with Horne's injury-laden history. But the Greenacre-raised outside back said he was keeping the faith with a body that finally came good for him this year.
"I was pretty happy with the year, I felt like I'd really turned the corner on things and to be honest I feel like I still have" ... Wallabies centre Rob Horne. Photo: Brendan Esposito
''I was pretty happy with the year, I felt like I'd really turned the corner on things and to be honest I feel like I still have, it's just one of those things,'' he said.
''After last year, [playing during] the World Cup and spring tour, I got back into training with the Waratahs and played every game available to me and played 80 minutes in every game, and then I played those June Tests … so [the injury] is not a scary thing, I know exactly what I have to do and I'm doing it.''
Horne hopes to be back to full training under new Waratahs coach Michael Cheika in a month if his hamstring continues to respond well to rehabilitation.
In the meantime, he will watch his Test midfield partner Pat McCabe grow more and more comfortable with Reds centre Ben Tapuai on the Wallabies four-Test tour of Europe.
''I've played a lot of footy with Ben and he's playing good football and hopefully he plays well overseas because it's an important tour for Australian rugby, so I like to think the boys will go well and continue on,'' Horne said.
Cheika is a fan of his injured centre but said a Waratahs starting spot was an important first milestone before Horne could expect to take back the Wallabies No. 13 jersey.
''He's going to have some serious competition in our back line for places … he's really got to get the most out of what he's good at and not waste his time perhaps doing things that aren't his strong set,'' Cheika said.
''I think he's very good at picking lines to run into and then also the offload after contact … I think if we give him the shape to understand that there's always someone in a position for him to do that with, and he's very clear about where the breaks are going to come from and who he can run off, then I think we could see the best from him.''
Competition will come in the form of Tom Carter, new recruit Michael Hodge and Wallabies back Adam Ashley-Cooper.
''Obviously we've got the option of playing one of our five-eighths as second receiver as well, so if we want a second receiver-type game, Berrick [Barnes] can play there or even Ben [Volavola] … I think Rob's looking more at that second centre slot so there's going to be a good contest for that,'' Cheika said.
Volavola was yesterday revealed as the fifth and final signing to the Waratahs' extended playing squad, after successfully trialling for the spot alongside three other players.
''The three guys all worked so hard and put everything out there so it was very difficult obviously but he looked like he was a threatening player … he looked like he was capable of going up levels,'' Cheika said.
Volavola's inclusion in the squad adds further competition to the five-eighth and fullback positions, where new signings Sam Lane and Cam Crawford will compete with incumbents Barnes and Bernard Foley, as well as Ashley-Cooper.
❏ Suspended Wallaby back-rower Scott Higginbotham says his omission from the Australian squad has been hard to swallow.
Higginbotham was banned for two games for kneeing and head-butting All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw in the Bledisloe Cup.
The suspension became four matches when he was left out.
''It feels like a double punishment but they have to cover all their areas,'' he said.