Horwill stays focused after chaotic build-up to All Blacks crunch

Any hope James Horwill had for a honeymoon period as the new Wallabies captain were rudely dashed by a snoozing team-mate who could not raise himself after a night on the town. Utility back James O’Connor’s no-show for a team photo and function for the naming of the Wallabies World Cup squad last week not only stole the thunder from Horwill’s appointment but also robbed him of one of his most potent attacking players for today’s Tri-Nations decider against the All Blacks.

Horwill has since had to deal with the fall-out from media reports about O’Connor engaging in a Paris punch-up with fellow backline youngsters Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper during last year’s end of season tour, while training with snarling flanker and deposed captain Rocky Elsom breathing down his neck.

The towering 26-year-old lock has coped with bigger hurdles in his career – a serious knee injury that wiped out his 2010 season chief among them – but might have hoped for a few controversy-free days before his baptism of fire against the All Blacks. “It’s kept me on my toes,” Horwill said yesterday, in his only reference to the week’s dramas.

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Horwill will march out on to Lang Park today for his first competitive match since the Super rugby final, where he hoisted the trophy after leading the Queensland Reds side to their first title over the All Black-laden Crusaders.

Already missing O’Connor, banned for his indiscipline, Horwill nearly lost midfield general Will Genia after the scrumhalf suffered two dizzying head-knocks from team mates at training in the space of three days.

Australia: K Beale, A Ashley-Cooper, A Fainga’a, P McCabe, D Ioane, Q Cooper, W Genia, R Samo, D Pocock, R Elsom, J Horwill (captain), D Vickerman, B Alexander, S Moore, S Kepu. Replacements: S Fainga’a, S Ma’afu, R Simmons, B McCalman, S Higginbotham, L Burgess, TBC.

New Zealand: M Muliaina, C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, Z Guildford, D Carter, P Weepu, K Read, R McCaw (c), A Thomson, S Whitelock, B Thorn, O Franks, K Mealamu, T Woodcock. Replacements: A Hore, J Afoa, A Williams, V Vito, A Ellis, C Slade, I Toeava.