Wallabies legend also shares predictions for 2015 season.
Tim Horan played rugby like a jetboat. He was all incision and action, bouncing through or sluicing hard, ball in two hands, head slightly bowed, laser-beam focus on the barest of gaps. Then: bang, he was through, and bolting. My, he could bolt. Horan ran hard lines arrow-straight. And quick. Man, so quick. He seemed to run as fast as required, which was, most often, fast enough to burn them all.
With ball in hand he could set a wide man free with fizzing torpedo passes, left and right. In defence he was compact and strong, launching his shoulders into the thighs of Philippe Sella, Will Carling and All Blacks great “Smokin’” Joe Stanley, who gave Horan his jumper after his debut Test, Eden Park, 1989.
Of course there was his combination with Jason Little, from the back-blocks of Toowoomba as kids, onwards to dozens of Tests together in the centres. And that, people, is Australian sports folklore, as was his return from a knee injury in ‘94 in which he broke just about everything in his knee it is possible to break. Three World Cups. Player of the Tournament in ’99. Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Queensland Rugby’s Player of the Decade to 2005 (top gong, Suits). And, with Little, one of Queensland Rugby’s centres of the century.
Today, he’s watching and analysing every game of Super Rugby for Fox Sports and taking his son to matches to tutor him in the ways of the grand old game. Some advice for the young bloke: Son? Check out the old man on a thing called YouTube. He went gangbusters.
As an analyst and commentator for Fox Sports’ Super Rugby coverage, you’ve probably seen a bit this year. Who do you like among the Australian provinces?
It’ll be a challenge for the Waratahs to go back-to-back, though I certainly think they can. It’s a young and experienced team. Michael Cheika has a really good culture going there, good improvisation. Though the Brumbies are the ones, for mine, who’ll be hard to beat if they can keep their key players fit. They’ve had a couple of disrupted seasons, but still made the semi-final last year, the final the year before. They’re the team to beat in Australia: really good pattern of play and Stephen Larkham, the coach, has adapted well to the changes of rugby today.
What was your assessment of Queensland after that 47-3 annihilation by the Brumbies in Round One?
Difficult to assess because they had so many players out. So depth could be a bit of a worry for Richard Graham. But they hit a pretty hot Brumbies side that night; nobody would’ve beaten them, the pace they played. So it’s too early to write off the Reds, but they’ll finish, I’d say, about seventh or eighth. They’ll obviously be striving to make the finals, the top-six. But realistically I think they’re just behind that.
Who’s your favourite Australian player? Who’s the bloke, if you weren’t a commentator, you’d pay to watch play?
For me, the last 18 months, it’s been Bernard Foley. He’s really grown as a player, on and off the field. You can see the confidence in him. But he’s keeping his feet on the ground as well. The pressure kick he took in the Super Rugby final, the matches he’s played for the Wallabies, he’s really growing in confidence and the people around him are growing with him. And I like the brand of rugby he plays. He takes the ball to the line, flat. Throws a really nice pass. And his management of games is second-to-none. He’s similar to a Matt Toomua-style of player, but Foley’s got that jump on him. Toomua will come back and pressure Foley. But Foley, his style of play, his cut-out pass, he’s great to watch. If I was taking my son to watch a game, I’d want Foley playing.
Not far into the Super season, but is Foley your Wallabies No.10? And if so, who’s your 12?
Subject to who’ll be outside centre – though you’d suggest it’ll be Tevita Kuridrani, he’s playing the house down – if I had to pick a combination tomorrow, I’d like to see Foley at 10, Toomua 12. I just like that combination of two guys who can play first receiver.
Like the Kiwis do with their “second five-eighth”; two play-makers ...
For us to win the World Cup, firstly, fix the scrum. Secondly: continue to play an attacking brand of rugby. We must play an attacking style of rugby. If we sit back on our heels, we’ll get spanked. So you need two attacking, creative players at 10 and 12.
So if Foley’s your favourite, who is the most valuable player in Australian rugby? David Pocock? Someone in the tight-five? Who’s the one bloke you pray doesn’t get injured?
This year, not long term, but in this World Cup year, it’s Stephen Moore. The No.2 position will make a huge amount of difference to the Australian scrum. Not saying the other players haven’t done a solid job. But Stephen Moore, he can anchor that scrum. And his experience, knowledge, his hard edge ... He’s a key man for the Brumbies and if he’s there for the World Cup it puts our chances a lot higher.
A lot of commentators are suggesting that there is a dearth in Australian rugby of second-rowers with size, mobility and, if you like, fear factor. The monster, the loose cannon with some game about him. Victor Matfield, Brad Thorn, Brodie Retallick. The Waratahs gave Sitaleki Timani a run and Will Skelton appears to have these characteristics. I like Sam Carter, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Luke Jones. But for mine we need giant brutes and hard chargers. Your thoughts?
At the start of the year I said there were two bolters for the World Cup squad. One was Lopeti Timani for the Rebels, the other was Chris Feauai-Sautia, from the Reds, a winger. Those two players are damaging runners and they bend the defensive line, cross the advantage line. That’s what’s needed in World Cups. If Timani stays fit and continues to perform as he has, he’ll go a long way to pressing claims.
Why isn’t Will Genia the number-one halfback and Luke Burgess the number-two? I like Nick Phipps, don’t mind Nic White. But I reckon Genia and Burgess give you more in attack. What do you think?
Always been a huge fan of Genia. He’s had injuries, come back from that. And then just found it difficult to get into the pace of the game. And the Reds’ performance last year didn’t help his cause. Halfbacks rely on the forward pack to go forward, to lay you a platform. Nick Phipps was sensational last year for the Waratahs. If you watch him play, watch how quickly he gets to the breakdown, how quickly he releases the ball. Genia, last few games, is getting back to his best. And you can see he has that drive and determination in his eyes again.
How does Michael Cheika get the best out of Israel Folau? I had a yarn with a few people last year and it seemed to be the consensus view that we should use him as a support player, rather than just tossing him the ball and saying “Go for it” ...
Yes, you give him that roving role to go where he likes. And also not to just stay out wide, but to lurk in the middle, around the halves, exploit the holes in that area. He relies on players inside him. He can hit a hole, but he needs players inside him to put him in one. And we’ve got the players who can do that. It’s important not to put too much pressure on him and expect to give him the ball from 50 out and score. Five times out of ten he can do it. But from the set piece I’d like to see plays which give him the chance to take a guy on, one on one. He’s a brilliant athlete and a really nice person off the field. That’s an important part of rugby. He holds himself well.
How about this Kyle Godwin at the Force? You see him pressing for a starting jumper? Or just the squad?
Certainly a squad position. I think he’s got to be able to play a couple of different positions. When you select a guy on the bench, you want him to be able to play two or three positions. That may count against him; he’s probably thought of as a 12 only. There’s so many good backline players, a lot of centres around. So I’d like to see him play more at 10 for the Force and occasionally 13. But yeah, wonderful player, toured with the Wallabies. Didn’t play a lot. You need those guys coming through.
Anyone else about? Young playmakers you like?
I reckon we’ve got enough: Christian Lealiifano, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Matt Toomua. There’s four tens already. Jack Debreczeni at the Rebels is highly regarded, but he’ll take a while to come through. But we’ve got four world-class players who can play 10, so we’re pretty well covered. Just depends who gets it. That 9, 10, 12 area is where the World Cup can be won for us.
Cheika had the Waratahs playing nice footy last year, obviously, because they won the comp. How do you think he’ll go juggling the Tahs’ and Wallabies’ gigs? Can he do both well?
I certainly think he can. It’s difficult to do both jobs. But Robbie Deans did it in his final year with the Crusaders. I’ve got no problem with him sharing responsibilities. It was good that he had a taste of what the Wallabies could do last year, on the tour. That would have given him an under-standing of what the culture is and what the players are like. I think he’s got to play a brand of rugby that suits the players in that team. Very quick, fast-paced, similar to what the Waratahs played last year. He’s a great believer in open, running rugby from his Randwick days.
We’re always hearing of league men who’d cross the Rubicon. Not sure if you watch much AFL but is there one Australian rules player you reckon could play rugby? A bloke with some pace, perhaps?
I don’t mind that Hawthorn captain, Luke Hodge. He’s a goer. The Aussie rules guys, they’re wonderful athletes and I suppose it’s a point of difference that AFL and rugby union have over rugby league: body shapes, sizes, heights. A big fat bloke can still play rugby union in the forwards. Ruck rovers can run 15 kilometres a game. You’ve got to be adaptable to play various positions.
Is the scrum still the Wallabies’ – and by extension all Australian rugby’s – Achilles heel? Or is that overblown?
Other teams are certainly targeting that as our weakness and it’s a real issue for us. I don’t think it’s panic stations, but with Stephen Moore coming back it will make a difference. And we need the players behind adding weight. Against the Frances, England, Wales, they’ll be trying to coerce penalties at scrum time. Four or five penalties can be 15 points in a match.
Greg Inglis is the latest league man to be tossed about as a future Rugby player. He’d go okay, wouldn’t he?
[Smiles] Well, yes, he probably would. He’s a bit like Israel Folau; he’s a wonderful athlete; he could play a couple of different sports. But I don’t think we should be spending a million dollars a year on a Greg Inglis; the money should be invested in schoolboy level and just after, to make sure we retain the talent that comes through. There’s some wonderful talent coming through in junior rugby, but some drift away to play other sports. So we have to make sure that the players that the ARU invest money and time into, we retain. It’s important that we invest in U/15s, U/16s, at schoolboys levels. A million dollars will get you one high-class player. But a million dollars into the juniors could get you ten or 15.
Sam Burgess. He’s scored a try for Bath. Made some tackles. Do you think he’s going to have much impact for England in the centres?
I don’t think he’s a centre, I think he’s a No.6 [blindside flanker]. But then they’re probably thinking that there’s so much to learn in the forwards in rugby [before the World Cup]. He’s not a player like Sonny Bill Williams who can create offloads, create breaks. He can make a success of it. But at what level? I don’t think he’ll be a run-on World Cup player. But he’s on the fringe.
We’ve had you in these pages a few times over the last two decades, Tim, and may have heard most of your war stories. Is there one we haven’t heard? Is there one you can set free?
At the 1999 World Cup I won a year’s supply of Guinness for scoring the fastest try in the World Cup ...
Heard that one ...
[Laughs] There’s more! The promotion was you had to score a try quicker than it takes to pour the “perfect” pint of Guinness, which is 119 seconds. We played Romania and I scored one off the kick-off in 107 seconds. And for that I got a year’s supply of Guinness and 10,000 pounds, which we donated to a kid’s hospital; we’d had a couple of premmie kids.
So they gave you a year’s supply. Did it come in huge kegs, or vats?
It was 365 of those big cans. I said to the promotions guy, “I’m not going to be able to get all that back on the plane. The over-weight luggage will kill me.” So we converted it to 11 50-litre kegs. I’ve used three or four of them. John Eales has hosted a couple of poker nights. There’s still a few sitting in my garage.
So, should Queensland win the Super XV or the Wallabies the World Cup, there’d be free Guinness for all at your joint?
I’ve always said I’m saving them for a special occasion. Those would certainly count.
Interview by Matt Cleary