James Horwill's leg an anatomy of disaster
James Horwill leaves the field after he was injured against the Brumbies at Canberra Stadium in May, 2012. Photo: Stefan Postles
Ask James Horwill about what has gone on inside his right leg over the past three years. Then take a seat, flip open the anatomy book and try not to shudder in imagined pain.
The scars punctuating Horwill's leg recount the tale of his past three seasons, a period of his career when he crested an historic high by winning the Super Rugby title in 2011 but bookended it with two campaigns of pain, frustration and the mundane isolation of rehab.
It's doubtful there's a leg in Australian rugby that has been subjected to as much carnage as that belonging to the Wallaby captain. It seems as if every fibre, muscle, tendon and ligament from the knee up has been ripped, snapped, torn or detonated.
To complete the package, he even had an operation on his toe.
A guided tour of Horwill's patched-up leg gives you an indication of how much time the 27-year-old has spent talking to surgeons, doctors and physiotherapists. He can rattle off anatomical names as easily as if he's ordering McDonald's.
First, there is the knee that exploded in the second round of the 2010 season, sidelining him for a year. It was a devastating injury that send his leg bending unnaturally backwards, and shredded his joint and surrounding supports as it buckled under the load.
"Ruptured ACL, lateral collateral ligament. Tore my whole post-lateral corner off, which includes the ITB hamstring out of its insertion," Horwill said.
"Sliced my meniscus off the insertion, had to get that pinned back down. I completely ruptured my semimembranosus tendon at the musculotendinous junction."
Clear? All you need to know is that the damage was enough to rule a shattered Horwill out for an entire Super Rugby and international season, as well as condemn him to long hours of painful rehabilitation and physical therapy.
The leg held up as Horwill returned for the 2011 season but more agony was in store. Midway through 2012, just short of the June Test window, Horwill not only tore his hamstring but snapped one of the muscles clean in half.
In a gruesome twist, it retreated 14cm up the back of his leg and ended his Super Rugby season and Test aspirations for the second time. The name "J Horwill" was back on the surgery list.
"With my hamstring injury, I completely tore my semimembranosus. The hamstring was snapped in half and retracted 14 centimetres. You've got four hamstrings – I tore one completely in half," he said.
Horwill's leg has undergone almost 10 hours of combined surgery, seen him miss 19 months of rugby and been responsible for countless hours of work to regain strength, balance, power and structural integrity.
The plus side is doctors don't believe the giant lock will have any lasting post-rugby issues as a result of the twin trauma. Even so, the surgical scars won't ever let him forget and he must feel slightly cursed as he begins the new season.
"It's got a few scars on there to help remind me what I've done to it," Horwill said.
Horwill finds himself part of "Team Rehab" once again at the start of 2013 but remains confident of being fit for the first game of the season, against the Brumbies in Canberra.
He'll play part of a trial if Ewen McKenzie consents, allowing him to return to doing what he does best for the first time in eight months.
"Any time you're injured is extremely frustrating. You want to play, you want to be able to do things. You have to manage expectations of what your body can do. That's been difficult," Horwill said.
"But that's a reality of what we do as a business. You have to deal with it and look forward until we can play. I'd like to play in one trial, that's the plan."