Former Wallabies skipper James Horwill says Australia’s squad are a tight group which won’t crack over Ewen McKenzie’s heavy sanctions.
The Wallabies remain tight-knit and won’t fray at the seems over 15 being named and shamed for a late night in Dublin, according to deposed captain James Horwill.
Horwill was the first player to front the media since Ewen McKenzie stood down six players and reprimanded nine others for staying out on the drink before a mid-week rest day – and backed the coach’s controversial stance.
The 46-Test second-rower also stressed there was a strong culture within the squad and it didn’t suffer from a booze problem.
While McKenzie was furious almost half his squad failed to comply with team protocols by staying out past midnight last Tuesday, Horwill said the episode would not split or hurt the group.
“I still think the team is culturally in a very good space,” he said in Edinburgh. “The players enjoy each other’s company.
“There’s no issues or anything like that. It’s a very tight group. It’s a group I enjoy being a part of.
“We support everyone in the group and … it’s about the team and the team comes first.”
Former Wallabies and Waratahs winger Drew Mitchell, now based in France, tweeted his disdain at McKenzie’s sanctions and appeared to claim a player dobbed in his teammates.
Horwill denied he was aware of any backhanded behaviour nor rifts over what McKenzie labelled a “speedbump” in improving the team standards.
The Rugby Union Players Association has launched its own investigation after players reported that no proper guidelines were in place over their Tuesday team dinner.
While no official curfew was laid out, McKenzie has said players should have been aware staying out and drinking beyond midnight broke team protocols.
Horwill said the punishments made expectations “very clear”.
“Ewen doesn’t want guys to be told they have to do something or can’t do something,” he said. “He wants individuals on the field and off the field to make the right choices.
“The priority is to play the games and if it wasn’t for the games we wouldn’t be over here in the first place.”
After four seasons as Queensland captain under the former 51-Test prop, Horwill knows McKenzie better than any other player.
Even he has suffered at his long-time mentor’s hands, cut as captain before the tour-opening Test against England three weeks ago.
With Benn Robinson dumped, plus Reds halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper benched early in his rein, and James O’Connor cut loose, Horwill said McKenzie will do whatever it takes to turn around the Wallabies’ results.
They have won just five of 13 Tests this year, including four of 10 since Robbie Deans was replaced.
“Ewen is the type of guy who won’t leave any stone unturned,” he said. “He will always be pushing the envelope in that sense and trying new things and different things. He wants to win.”