Queensland Reds skipper James Horwill says he has nothing to prove after his difficult Wallabies
Spring Tour and believes he has settled on the right balance between aggression in the forwards and the diplomacy of captaincy.
Horwill was axed as Wallabies captain by coach Ewen McKenzie, his former Reds mentor who wanted him to concentrate on regaining his form on the field.
It was a bitter pill to swallow but after some welcome time away from the game in the off-season, Horwill has returned to Ballymore philosophical, fit and motivated to make every post a winner in 2014.
He will resume in the Reds’ first trial, against the Chiefs in Toowoomba this weekend, and says he feels no pressure to show he remains one of the premier locks in the Australian game.
Coach Richard Graham had no hesitations in giving Horwill another season in charge of the Reds, with the towering backrower in better shape than ever, having not spent pre-season in the rehab ward for a change.
Horwill stressed that winning games, whether it be for his province of his country, was top of his priority list, not whether he had the ‘c’ next his name on the team sheet.
‘‘You look back on things that happen. In the end, it is something I’ve thought about but it wasn’t the end of the world. That’s always the most important thing for me; whether you are captain or not, you want to win football games,’’ Horwill said.
‘‘That’s no different with the Wallabies or Reds. That’s the why I’ve looked at it.’’
Horwill’s critics have suggested some of the aggression had been sapped from his game as he juggled the captaincy with trying to inject the fire of an on-field enforcer.
It’s occasionally put Horwill in delicate spots and while he admits he doesn’t play with the outright aggression of his younger days, he believes he has the mix about right.
‘‘You always need to do what’s best for the team. The way you play, each person has a different asset. You need to bring that forward as much as possible without damaging the group,’’ Horwill said.
‘‘Part of my role in any team is to be aggressive and physical. But you don’t want to overstep the mark by giving away penalties or spending time off the field.
‘‘When I first started, I didn’t think about much else and the consequences didn’t feature in my mind like they do now. I was 20. The bigger picture wasn’t on my mind. Now, I think I understand the role. It’s part of football and growing up.’’
Horwill’s shocking run with serious injuries over the years has made it difficult to find any fluency with his form. And while he doesn’t feel the need to prove he remains a powerful force, he said he would love to start the Super Rugby season in emphatic fashion.
‘‘I’d like to play well from the beginning. I’m focused on playing well for the Reds and winning. We have two interstate away games, one at home then off to Africa for two weeks. It’s a really critical part of the year for us. We need to set our season up,’’ he said.
The Reds take on the Chiefs in Toowoomba on Saturday, with Graham likely to pay extra attention to auditions for fullback, centres and wings before the season opener against the Brumbies in Canberra on February 22.