James Horwill stripped of Wallabies' captaincy

WOBBLY WALLABIES: James Horwill has been axed as Wallabies' captain.
WOBBLY WALLABIES: James Horwill has been axed as Wallabies' captain.

James Horwill has been dropped as Wallabies captain with instructions to regain his abrasive form in clash against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

In another shock move, five-eighth Quade Cooper will be named as vice-captain ahead of halfback Will Genia, who has captained the side before and had been coach Ewen McKenzie's first choice for the deputy role.

Horwill will start in the second row alongside Sitaleki Timani, who replaces the injured Rob Simmons, but will cede the captaincy to No 8 Ben Mowen.

And Matt Toomua will retain the No 12 jersey ahead of Christian Lealiifano, while Nick Cummins will return to the wing alongside Adam Ashley-Cooper, with Tevita Kuridrani staying at No.13.

Scott Fardy also returns to the starting line-up at blindside breakaway, while Kane Douglas comes on to the bench as second-row cover and Ben McCalman moves back to the bench.

Horwill has been the first-choice Wallabies captain since taking over from Rocky Elsom for the final Test before the 2011 World Cup.

Injury kept him out of the Test team last year but he assumed the captaincy again under former coach Robbie Deans for the British and Irish Lions series and retained the honour when McKenzie took over before the Rugby Championship.

McKenzie said the decision was not permanent but he did not say when or if Horwill would resume the role.

The Wallabies coach said the move was designed to get Horwill back to his playing best and had nothing to do with the quality of his leadership.

"I don't think that's an issue, primarily you pick a team you're picking on performance, you need them to deliver," McKenzie said.

"I know what he's capable of and I think he's been a little bit off the pace of what he's capable of delivering, so I want him to focus on that.

"It's going to be a tough game up front and he's one of our most abrasive players, so I want him to play to his full potential."

It is almost certain that Horwill would have been on the bench on Saturday had Simmons not re-strained the medial ligament in his left knee at training earlier this week. Medical staff ruled him out on Wednesday.

McKenzie would not be drawn on the question but has traditionally thought of Horwill and Timani as interchangeable at No.5 but not, ideally, starting second-row partners.

The captaincy decision is a stunning one but McKenzie has already shown he is not afraid to make changes. He shocked the rugby community when he did not pick Cooper at five-eighth in the first two Tests under his leadership, then did it again when he benched Genia in favour of Brumbies No.9 Nic White.

McKenzie said stripping Genia of the vice-captaincy was also about wanting more from his halfback's game.

McKenzie said he wanted more from the group and was prepared to make big changes and big selection calls to find that.

"You get one chance at these things, and you're given what you've got, and I've been asked to make it better," he said.

"My career in rugby has been about fixing things, people might not agree about how you get there but I worked out in my very first year of head coaching that if you don't make hard decisions you won't get very far, and certainly nothing will change.

"So if I want players to make hard decisions and play tough, I've got to do the best I can in that same space."

Horwill has had a year of monumental ups and downs. He won a race against time to make it back to Test rugby in time for the Lions series; endured a circus-like appeal process after being cleared of stamping in the second Lions Test; and then tore his calf two days before the series decider, choosing to play through the pain and captain the Wallabies in what ended in a dismal loss.

"When guys carry injuries - I've had major injuries myself - the mind is willing and sometimes the body is in a mode when you've come off a long haul out of the game and you want to make sure you're right," McKenzie said.

"He's been back playing since March roughly and he's been back on the field and he's had a couple of setbacks . . . at this point of time I want him to concentrate on being the hard-working, abrasive second-rower I know he can be."

Wallabies team to play England: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Ben Mowen (c), Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Ben McCalman, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley.

Sydney Morning Herald