Dumped Wallabies skipper James Horwill has opened up for the first time about his axing and declared he’d love to regain the captaincy from Ben Mowen.
But the abrasive second-rower understood his form was an issue and the blow – as painful as the three serious injuries he’d suffered in his 45-Test career – had helped put his game back on track.
Horwill was replaced as captain by No.8 Mowen just before the 20-13 loss to England at Twickenham, and McKenzie was also set to bench him following uncharacteristically ineffective displays in the Rugby Championship.
In the end, a knee injury to Queensland teammate Rob Simmons allowed him to retain his starting spot and the 28-year-old lock has responded with more powerful performances in the opening two Tests on the European tour.
“I’m not going to hide the fact I was disappointed,” Horwill said. “I love what I do and I love being captain of my country.
“(But) captaining is always about the team and that’s the way you have to look at it.”
With the Wallabies losing the British and Irish Lions series 2-1, and then winning just two of the first seven Tests of McKenzie’s reign, Horwill felt he was guilty of paying too much attention to the team’s problems instead of his own game.
“I knew myself I wasn’t happy with the way I’d been playing but I guess you can look at it in that sense (being stripped) has given me the opportunity to worry about myself a little bit more,” he said.
“I think maybe my focus did go away from myself individually and I was more focused on ‘what can I do to get the team going’.
“I hate losing. Maybe that was the thing.
“I might reflect that there were things I could have done differently.
“It’s allowed me to be selfish in my preparations and worry about the way I need to prepare physically and mentally to get right to play.”
While he understood his long-time Queensland mentor’s decision, the Reds skipper, preparing to play Ireland at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Sunday morning (AEDT), still fell short of saying he agreed with it.
McKenzie, who has used three captains in his short tenure, is in no rush to settle on a long-term skipper but Horwill is adamant he wants his job back.
“I’d love to captain the country again,” he said. “I take great pride and put a lot of effort into doing it.
“It’s not something I take lightly. It’s a huge responsibility and something I did enjoy doing.
“That’s not the priority. My priority is to get my form back and win for the team.”