James Horwill

Hard yards: James Horwill goes into contact at training. Photo: Getty Images

THERE were two indelible images of Wallabies captain James Horwill during the Reds game against the British and Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

One was of ''Big Kev'' urging the Reds on from the bench with every step, pass, kick, tackle, breakdown and set-piece effort. The other was of the 115-kilogram, 200-centimetre second-rower calmly advising his Queensland players at half-time.

''I was very passionate about that game,'' a smiling Horwill, who could not play in the Reds' 12-22 loss due to his Wallabies commitments, said. ''We went out with a certain game plan to get stuck in and I was very proud of the team.

''I wanted to help where I could. You need to offer something sitting on the sidelines rather than just be there as a spectator.''

Horwill's involvement did not surprise Reds coach and former Wallabies tight-head prop Ewen McKenzie, who has coached him at the Reds since joining them in 2010.

''He has always been like that, actively involved,'' McKenzie said. ''Whenever he has been injured he has been able to stay engaged.''

On Saturday, Horwill will be able to unleash all his passion on the field - rather than some of it from the sidelines - when he returns to Suncorp Stadium and leads the Wallabies against the Lions in the first Test. He is preparing himself for that walk from the quietness of the tunnel into the roar of a packed crowd.

''They are the moments you can't replicate,'' the 28-year-old said. ''I can't tell you what it is going to feel like. That's the beauty of sport. That's why you play.''

Horwill cherishes being captain of both the Reds and the Wallabies. He replaced Rocky Elsom to become the 77th captain of the Wallabies in August 2011 and led them to a Tri Nations series win, in the World Cup and on the spring tour of that year.

The captaincy is his again after 18 months out of Test rugby due to a hamstring injury. He said he was ready for the physicality of the Lions.

But Horwill, who has 35 Test caps to his name, knows he cannot allow the emotion of the night get to him. He learnt early the difference between an aggressive and angry player and of the cost of giving away silly penalties.

He also believes his captaincy experience at provincial and national levels has made him a better player.

''That was part of it - the added responsibilities that I am the leader, and [realising that] by me doing things that are silly or stupid at times … it's to the detriment of the group,'' he said.

''So I needed to be smarter. It's about maturing as a person. I was quite young, and a bit brash. I needed to calm down and realise there is difference between aggression and anger.''

Former Wallabies captain and second-rower John Eales, who earned 86 Test caps from 1991 to 2001, said Horwill's leadership positions had brought his best.

''When you step into that role there are a lot of different considerations you have to make and he seems to have done them all really well and consistently,'' Eales said. ''He has become a better player since he has become captain, which is not necessarily an easy or natural thing to do.''

McKenzie, who retired with 51 Test caps from 1990 to 1997, agreed: ''He doesn't have a problem with aggression. It was [with] channelling it. Working with referees is another part of the game; having that communication and finding ways to be effective. He had a propensity for conceding one penalty too many.''

One of the hardest challenges for a Wallabies captain is is dealing with players - often friends - who trip over the fault line, and not just on the field.

So how does Horwill handle his role in the judgment of a teammate who breaches team-conduct rules? ''We put the team first,'' he said. ''The most important thing about a team is your trust in each other. Obviously, things happen and you need to make sure everyone understands that the team comes first, and what is the situation.

''You still have to allow people to show individuality. You can't put everyone in one box and say, 'You have to be like this.' As long as they channel those efforts … you have to let people be themselves.''

In the preparation for the Lions series, two cases have come under public scrutiny and affected the debate on Wallabies selections. They involve Reds five-eighth Quade Cooper and Rebels playmaker Kurtley Beale.

Of Cooper, who last year claimed there was a toxic environment in the Wallabies and is not in the squad for the Lions series, Horwill said: ''Quade made those remarks and probably regrets what he said - I know he does.

''I have a lot of time for Quade. I've played with him a long time, since 2007. He's been a part of the team I've been involved in for a long time - not only at international level, but at provincial level.''

Beale is back in the Wallabies after being counseled for alcohol abuse. Horwill said his issues ''are quite serious in nature … but anything that we can do as a team to help, we are always there for him as long as he knows that. I think him being around us is a positive''.

As for those who have influenced Horwill? He cites Eales, McKenzie and Wallabies legend Toutai Kefu, recalling vividly Eales and Kefu playing at Ballymore.

''They warmed up on the outside field. You would watch them warm up, walk back in … I enjoyed watching these man mountains.''

But his greatest influences are his parents Jenny and Rod, whose mantra was to ''put your mind to something and then stick at it''.

That Horwill did stick to rugby is a blessing for the code. As a schoolboy, he also played Australian football - until he was about 15. How rugby union finally won out over AFL was simple.

''I was bigger than most kids,'' he said. ''When you are good at something you tend to be drawn to it. My body shape suited rugby more than AFL.''