herald

Tuesday 18 September 2018

A tale of two captains for Autumn showdown

IT COULD be a tale of two captains, one former, one present.

Australia's James Horwill has not long lost the armband of his country to Ben Mowen, while Paul O'Connell is due to appear beside Joe Schmidt today to embrace the role for Ireland.

The abiding images of the British & Irish Lions test series this summer include the rapture of then captain Horwill as Australia levelled the series at one-all in the second test, breaking down in the arms of his teammates.

It meant that much to him. Still does: "I'd love to captain my country again. I take great pride and a put a lot of effort into doing it," he said.

He has even admitted to being consumed by the responsibility and ensuring that everyone else was on point as his own game suffered.

"It's not something I take lightly, I have huge respect for the role and it's something I did enjoy. But that's not the priority. The priority is to get my form back and win for the team."

Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie removed the role from his second row in order to re-establish his "abrasive physicality".

Ireland defence coach Les Kiss worked as an assistant to McKenzie for six seasons at the New South Wales Waratahs.

"I know one thing that will be true if Ewen is there, (there) is a lot of noise around the place, outside the camp, and one of the things they'll make sure of is that they manage that internally and control it," he said.

"There is opinion on the outside and that's important, that's what the game is about as well, but it's managing it internally."

The noise went up a decibel or 10 when McKenzie took flak for replacing Horwill with new primary leader Mowen, who was not viewed as a certainty to start for Australia.

O'Connell has always been a leader of men. He was a qualified success on the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa and holds iconic status in the game.

 

SENSIBLE

Coach Joe Schmidt made the sensible decision to turn to O'Connell for leadership through to the next World Cup with Jamie Heaslip there in case the familiar theme of injury arises for the Limerick man.

O'Connell has known the roller-coaster ride of international rugby. Hell, the last time he played for Ireland before his cameo last Saturday was 20 months ago against France in March 2012.

"Paul's leadership for a start makes a difference in a lot of parts of our game.

"In the air and defensively, he's just a workhorse," said Kiss.

"His leadership off the field and the words that he says in the lead-up to the game in the last couple of days about making sure we're focused in all of our game, even in defence, he has a fair bit to say."

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