Harlequins now Horwill's home away from home

by Sam Phillips

There was a touch of fate about James Horwill's move to Harlequins.

His mother, Jenny, grew up a stone's throw away from Twickenham Stoop - Quins' home ground- and the former Wallabies skipper holds a UK passport.

Perhaps that has something to do with Horwill's immediate love for the club he now leads, with similar vigour and passion that he displayed while donning the red and gold jerseys he cherished.

He still has family in London, something that made the move easier at the start, though after two-and-a-half seasons, the lock is building his own mark in the English capital.

James Horwill has gone from Premiership rookie to captain in two seasons. Photo: getty Images"It's quite weird, the way the world works," Horwill told RUGBY.com.au

"It's been nice to move to a different city - while it's not a huge cultural difference - it is always nice to have some family to lean on, particularly around Christmas and holidays.

"They don't live too far from me in London so we spend a lot of time together and they've certainly been a huge help to me and my wife when we moved over here."

Horwill has gone from Premiership rookie to club captain in the space of two years but it's a journey he certainly didn't anticipate when he first arrived in London.

His natural leadership stood out to the club's brains trust and before the 32-year-old knew it, he was charged with leading similarly experienced heads including former England skipper Chris Robshaw and Wales stalwart Jamie Roberts.

The honour of captaincy is something he knows well, having led at state and national level, and the pride he has in his country made the decision to leave at the end of 2015 all the more difficult, his signature coming before the introduction of the 60-Test rule.

"It's something that I'm quite privileged and honoured to be able to do," he said.

"I was very lucky to be able to captain my country and do it on a number of occasions.

"That's something I certainly didn't take lightly and anytime I got to pull it (the gold jersey) on, it was a fond memory.

"You do miss it when you leave the Test arena - it's something that weighed quite heavily on me when I made the decision to come here.

"Any time you get a chance to stand there and sing the national anthem is a special occasion and it's something I certainly didn't take for granted."

Though he's half a world away, Horwill is still a keen observer of the Wallabies' fortunes, watching on in a rollercoaster year for the national side.

"Consistency is the big thing - all the best teams in the world, the two best international teams are England and New Zealand and both of them are very consistent," he said.

"On their off days they're not that bad and on their good days they're really good.

"There isn't a lot of discrepancy between the two and I think that's probably what they're driving through.

"Hopefully they can learn from that and keep building."

James Horwill played his 50th Harlequins match against Saracens. Photo: Getty ImagesThe second row is an area Horwill feels is flourishing, with Reds rookies Lukhan Tui and Izack Rodda impressing, and long-time teammate and close friend Rob Simmons showing his grit, clawing his way back into the 2019 Rugby World Cup plans after being let go by Queensland in June.

"Obviously Lukhan and Izack have got their first exposure in the Reds this year so to be making their Test debut in the same season shows how much they are rated in Australian rugby," he said.

"They're both great talents and with any luck they'll be around in Australian rugby for a long time.

"Adam (Coleman) has come into his own over the last couple of seasons - he's been a pillar at lock and even a guy like Rob Simmons, I think he's been playing great rugby.

"A lot of people wrote him off and I think he's shown some great tenacity to hang in there this season."

Having seen Northern Hemisphere rugby grow to near its historical best firsthand, Horwill predicts the path to Europe and back, ala centre Billy Meakes and fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, could be a more-traversed pattern in years to come.

"I would promote more young guys (to come to Europe), particularly young guys, if given the opportunity, because it is a different type of rugby and gives you a different level of exposure in different environments," he said.

"I certainly think you'll see a lot more guys, like Billy did, coming over here and then going back, just to get that opportunity.

"The exposure can't be a bad thing as long as they go back and you want to create an environment back home where guys want to play, that's important."

Though overseas moves in the back end of careers have oft been linked with a cash grab and little ambition, Horwill's experience could not be further from that perception, with a new environment creating a fresh hunger for the forward.

"It's definitely challenged my game - I have definitely enjoyed the different aspect of it - being direct, it's very confrontational," he said.

"I think the game across the world is going that way - you win the contact, win the collisions - you look at the teams are going well, that's what they're doing.

"I think that is a big part of rugby at the moment and I'm enjoying that slight difference."

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Though he's ensconced in London now, Horwill is still a proud Queenslander, and Australian, who just loves playing rugby.

When 2020, and the end of his current contract, rolls around, he didn't rule out continuing his rugby career in grade rugby with UQ, a move that newly retired hooker Stephen Moore has foreshadowed as well.

"I could get my arm twisted," he said, as he so often does, with a smile.