Sport24 asked: How’ve you found the transition from the playing field to the commentary box?
Tim Horan: It’s been a great experience commentating for Fox Sports since 2010. I appreciate the amount of preparation that goes into a live production and we pride ourselves on offering the viewers a unique experience during the match. As a commentator, it’s crucial that you give the public something that they can’t necessarily see. For instance, you can’t just say that the outside centre passes to the wing, who scores in the corner, because everyone can see that for themselves. My commentary method is to try to tell the viewing public why and how a passage of play occurred. Commentating is great fun and allows me to still be close to the game without too much pressure. As a commentator, you can enjoy the week leading up to the Test match and gain an understanding of what the players and coaches are trying to achieve. For the foreseeable future, I would much rather enjoy the comforts of the coaching box than get involved in coaching. Top-level coaching is a 24/7 job, it’s stressful and can prove a thankless vocation at times. If I ever choose to coach a team, it would probably be in a third-tier competition where the playing personnel only train once a week.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the state of Springbok rugby? Are they still a feared foe?
Tim Horan: Much like the Wallabies, the Springboks are going through a rebuilding phase. The fact that Allister Coetzee changed the 9-10-15 axis for the match against the Wallabies last Saturday shows exactly how the Springboks want to play the game - with plenty of field position. Flyhalf Morné Steyn is ageing, but remains a wonderful player. With age comes experience and he knows precisely how to control a Test match. However, for me, the Springboks are certainly missing the influence of the injured Handré Pollard at No 10. He is a flyhalf that takes the ball flatter to the line and asks more questions of defenders than Steyn. Steyn appears to be the answer in the short to medium term, but in the long-term, I would back Pollard to make the No 10 jersey his own. Once the 22-year-old gets back into the team, the Springboks’ structures can surely get him on the front foot.
Sport24 asked: The Wallabies have slipped to fourth in the rankings. Are they a team in trouble?
Tim Horan: Definitely not. In my opinion, Wallaby rugby is in a really strong state. We boast plenty of depth and a number of players are playing consistent, exciting rugby. Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry recently said: “I think it’s probably the worst Australian team I have ever seen and that’s a real worry for the game.” Henry is entitled to his opinion, but I am not too worried about those comments. Solid foundations are being put in place and exciting young players are coming through the ranks. The likes of Reece Hodge and Samu Kerevi are the type of young players that have come to the fore at Super Rugby level and are now producing the goods for their country on the Test stage. While the Wallaby brand remains strong, the game plan is to try to attract more people to watch rugby union in Australia because of the competitiveness we have with rugby league, AFL and other codes. We need to employ a style of rugby that attracts new supporters to the game. As long as there is structure and clarity in place, Cheika will stick with the mindset of attacking rugby.
Sport24 asked: You’re on many people’s list of all-time favourite players. Who are yours and why?
Tim Horan: Joost van der Westhuizen was a wonderful player and makes my list of favourite rugby players of all time. Meanwhile, Jonah Lomu, like Van der Westhuizen could change a game in an instant. Lomu was feared by all and loved by all. To play against and with him was a huge honour. He put rugby on the global stage. The way I gauge rugby players is whether they produce consistent performances over a lengthy period of time. You can’t be rated as a great if play one or two matches well and then play 10 poorly. David Campese, whom I caught up with last week in Johannesburg at the team run, was not just consistent during World Cups but outside them as well, which I admired.
Sport24 asked: You played Test rugby for 11 years. What led to your longevity in the game?
Tim Horan: Consistency of performance. It’s something which I’m proud of personally over the course of my professional playing career. I prided myself on being a consistent performer for both club and country and benefitted from having top-level players in the team that were equally consistent performers. Moreover, the fact that there weren’t a lot of changes in the respective teams I played for – the Reds and the Wallabies – helped in terms of continuity and combinations. Jason Little and I played plenty of rugby together form age-group level through to Test match rugby for Australia. We were wonderful mates on and off the field and formed a fantastic understanding as a centre pairing. Meanwhile, I also understood that the demands at Test level were different to those at Super Rugby level. Test rugby is a big step up from Super Rugby because you can’t run the ball all the time in Tests matches. You have got to play more of a territory-driven approach and sometimes that means playing defensively and for more field position. In Super Rugby, you see high scores much more often. It’s a different style of game that you have to play at Test level. You really have to be strong up front and make sure that you take your opportunities because you only get two or three chances to score tries in a Test. (Horan scored 30 tries in 80 Tests and had a 74% win rate).
Sport24 asked: You hung up your boots after a stint with Saracens. How was the UK experience?
Tim Horan: I spent three wonderful years with Saracens, based in London, and was coached by none other than 1995 Springbok World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar. I have a lot of time for Francois. He was a really knowledgeable coach and a wonderful person to have within the system. We reached a couple of Cup finals and I ended my professional career at the age of 33. I threw my boots into the crowd and said: “Thank you very much”. I was blessed to have played the game I love.
Sport24 asked: And finally, what can South Africa expect from Eddie Jones’ England in November?
Tim Horan: The Springboks will be in for a tough Test. Jones has done well with England since he took the helm. He studies the game and knows the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents, and ultimately picks a side that can win Test matches. It’s clearly not the most exciting brand of rugby you will ever see played, but it certainly wins Tests. And once you get that foundation right, you can start opening up the shackles so to speak to play a more enterprising brand of rugby. Essentially as a professional rugby coach, you have to stay true to your values and what game plan you want to employ. However, you also have to ensure that the players have plenty of say in terms of what you want to achieve on the field because they are ultimately the ones who make the on-field decisions.
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