DUBAI // Six years after finally hanging up his boots, and 15 years after being told he would never play the game again, the double World Cup winner Tim Horan will return to the playing field at this weekend's Dubai Rugby Sevens. The former Wallabies centre, who is universally regarded as a modern rugby great, is set to run out alongside an array of former internationals for the Christina Noble Children's Foundation side in the International Vets competition.
Or, more accurately, hobble out. The 39-year-old Australian has only played two charity matches since he finished his professional career, the final two seasons of which were spent in London with Saracens. After a lengthy courting period, he has finally accepted the chance to don the charity side's trademark yellow jersey in the 10-a-side competition. He has successfully negotiated the 15-hour flight from Australia's east coast, and cast off the jet lag, but, with glum inevitability, he is already carrying a knock.
"I have been asked to come and play for the Foundation for the past four years but have not been able to make it due to work commitments back in Australia," said Horan. "Now I have got the chance to come out I have got a sore calf. But whether you play one game or just 30 seconds you are an ambassador for the charity. It is a great way for us to give back to the community." Horan may have to sit out today's pool matches in order to be fully fit for Christina Noble's knock-out exertions tomorrow and Saturday.
Having played so rarely since 2003, he is acutely aware of his body's limitations. He became well versed in managing injuries during a Test career that brought him 80 caps, as well as Webb Ellis Cup winners medals in 1991 and 1999. Between those two triumphs he suffered a knee injury that should have ended his career, but rebounded so successfully that he was named the player of the tournament in 1999.
"The knee injury I had has caught up with me," added the Sydney-born back. "It was 1994 and the doctor pretty much said, 'That was the last game of rugby you will ever play'. That was followed by the operation and, all in all, it took me 15 months to get back. I still have a lot of joint pain from that injury." Whatever concerns Horan has over his fitness are not likely to matter too greatly. Christina Noble have more recognisable faces in their side than any of sides in the main IRB competition, let alone the over-35 age group in which they are playing.
Austin Healey and Will Greenwood, the former housemates, as well as England and Leicester Tigers colleagues, will arrive this morning to join the squad. Tim Stimpson, the former British Lions full-back, and Chris Sheasby, who won the inaugural World Cup Sevens with England, are both Christina Noble regulars, while Horan will also link up with his former Wallabies teammate Damian Smith. All of which means he is set for a free ride in the midfield. "Damian's a good mate of mine, and he said, 'You have to come over and play, you'll love it'.
"I thought that I needed to go this year - my body is not going to hold up for much longer. "I don't do a lot of running but if I can get out the field and just be part of the group, that will be more important than actually playing the games." @Email:email@example.com