Dethroned Wallabies skipper James Horwill’s diminished stocks are rising again.
That’s the assured view of Queensland coach Richard Graham who believes Horwill’s unpalatable Test benching has helped the Reds lock rediscover his best form.
Several critics have doubted whether the 200cm second-rower would ever get back to the heights of 2011 when he was elevated to Australia’s captaincy following powerhouse efforts for the triumphant Reds and Wallabies.
A string of serious injuries to his right leg – ankle, knee and hamstring – have taken their toll in the past 12 months, with the 29-year-old first demoted as Test skipper last November.
He was again overlooked, for Stephen Moore and then Michael Hooper, as captain for the Wallabies’ 3-0 series victory over France, when also twice benched.
Horwill played 90 minutes in total as Sam Carter (first Test) and Will Skelton (third Test) took their starting chances and gained rave reviews.
But the Reds captain looked a new man on Friday night as he inspirationally led the way in Queensland’s 36-20 Super Rugby victory over the Rebels in Melbourne.
“Horwill was outstanding,” Graham said. “He led from the front in everything he did.
“Only playing 90 minutes in the last three weeks has freshened him up a little bit.
“I don’t think that last three weeks was easy, by any stretch, but the less game time has probably helped him.”
Horwill had 10 months on the sidelines after undergoing hamstring surgery midway through 2012.
The fears were that the 51-Test stalwart had lost the leg drive that had made him such a powerful figure in the Test and Reds packs.
But it was there as he made seven barnstorming runs and made 15 tackles against the Rebels.
“I know the one thing about Kevvie (Horwill) is he is determined,” he said. “And he is always out there to try and prove people wrong.
“Kev probably hasn’t had the time or chance to sit back and freshen up and just get his body right.”
The Reds must make two more changes to their injury-hit backline for Saturday night’s clash in Perth, with Lachie Turner to replace Dom Shippperley (ankle) and Samu Kerevi set to start in the centres for Ant Fainga’a (calf).
Graham again declined to confirm James O’Connor was heading to Ballymore after the latest newspaper report had the wayward Wallabies back signing a two-year deal.
Queensland are sticking to their plan to reveal the bulk of their squad after their 2014 campaign ends.