Wallabies skipper James Horwill’s intense frustration at missing a full season of Test rugby is tempered by the opportunity it’s given replacement captain Nathan Sharpe.
Horwill, devastated to be ruled out of next month’s end-of-year tour of Europe, labels 112-Test veteran Sharpe a “great of the game” and is overjoyed his fellow second-rower is getting to exit the game in a fitting manner.
It’s fair to say Sharpe’s Test career would have finished in June, at the latest, if not for Horwill’s hamstring injury which cut his season short in May.
The 34-year-old Sharpe was only on the fringes of the Wallabies’ match 22 in 2011 and ready to hand up his boots at the end of Super Rugby in July before Horwill’s blow, as well as Dan Vickerman’s injury-enforced retirement, prompted coach Robbie Deans to ask him to play on through the inaugural four-nation Rugby Championship.
Injuries to second and third-choice captains David Pocock and Will Genia saw Sharpe handed the reins of a severely-depleted Wallabies last month.
And his inspirational leadership and play in the past four Tests (for two wins plus a draw against New Zealand) has prompted Deans to keep Sharpe on as skipper for the four-Test tour against France, England, Italy and Wales before well-earned retirement.
“It couldn’t happen to a better bloke,” Horwill told AAP.
“He’s done some great things and I think it’s deserving he’s been able to go out in such a way and help influence the team the way he has.
“It’s a credit to him that he’s given such great service to Australian rugby and he’s a guy that I think will go down as one of the greats of the game.
“I think it’s great he’s got this opportunity.”
If not for a surprise setback with a grade one tear of his hamstring last week, Horwill would be preparing to pack his bags for Europe.
In the end, Wallabies medics opted to err on the side of caution to ensure the Queenslander would be fully fit to start 2013.
“It’s very frustrating but the reality is it’s better to get it right and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the 27-year-old said.
“I feel I did everything I personally could have to get it right in the time frames we had but it just wasn’t enough.”