THE usually urbane Peter Horne showed a bit of fire earlier this week when he was quizzed about his prospects of making Scotland’s 31-man World Cup squad as a handy midfield cover player for front-liners such as Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones and Finn Russell, as well as coming man Rory Hutchinson.
“Everyone … my whole career … I’ve been [seen as a] second choice – it doesn’t bother me,” he snapped back. “I always work hard and from the outside everyone talks about everyone else, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I tend to just not care and get on with my job. Keep working hard, keep my head down and don’t pay too much attention. Competition is great for the squad.
“I remember the year at Glasgow when we won the league, I think I played 32 games that season, and the whole time it seemed it was about how the first-choice centres were Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett,” he added. “Fair enough, at the end of that year they were both injured but I played ahead of them that whole season. It’s been like that…forever.
“I know what I bring. I’m not the flashiest of players but I know I’m ready to compete and I do a job in this team that makes us a better team. I’m not thinking too hard about anything, I’ll just go out this weekend and work my balls off.”
Horne soon recovered his customary composure to acknowledge that he is operating in a highly competitive position.
“Space [Taylor] is obviously back and he played well at the weekend, Hutch [Hutchinson] has now come in and he’s had a great season at Northampton, you’ve got Shuggie [Huw] Jones playing really well, Squigs [Nick Grigg] is playing well [although he has now been cut from the squad], and Sammy [Johnson] is playing well.
“There’s been competition for the last couple of years and it’s been tough to get your jersey and get out on the park. You don’t have the luxury now that if you play shite you’ll still be in the week after. If you don’t play well then you’re not going to play. That pressure, you just have to try and thrive on it.”
Horne’s durability rebuffs the portrayal of him as a bit-part player. Dunbar, Bennett and Matt Scott are among the midfielders he has outlived on the international stage. It should also be noted that he was in the No 12 jersey when Scotland produced their best performance of the Gregor Townsend era in the 2018 Calcutta Cup win over England. He was also at inside-centre when the team thumped Australia 53-24 the previous November and played the final 34 minutes in that position the week before when Scotland came within a whisker of securing an historic win over New Zealand.
He is incredibly highly rated by both Townsend and Dave Rennie at Glasgow Warriors, because of his intelligence, communication skills, technical ability, work-rate, resilience and level-headed personality. He is regarded as a calming influence outside the impetuous personalities of Adam Hastings and Finn Russell, while the fact that he can also slot in at stand-off when required is another string to his bow.
He has been guilty of the odd costly gaffe throughout his career, such as his missed penalty to touch in the dying minutes of Scotland’s 2015 Six Nations match and the interception try he gifted Jacob Stockdale during the 2018 Six Nations, but it would be grossly unfair to label him a liability.
Horne says he “is not the flashiest of players” but he has produced some moments of real rugby magic during his career, with his brilliant match-winning try which knocked Northampton Saints out of Europe in 2013 still holding its own as one of Glasgow Warriors’ greatest ever scores.
The Warriors man will get a chance to do his talking on the pitch this Saturday when he lines up at inside-centre against France at Murrayfield, as Scotland attempt to get their World Cup preparation back on track following last weekend’s painful defeat in Nice. It is not a ‘must-win’ game, but a massive improvement in performance is necessary.
Without giving too much away about how the squad as a whole has responded to such a shocking start to their World Cup build-up schedule, Horne did stress that fears about an inherent softness in the camp are way off the mark.
“The coaches get fired up – and the players – if you do something wrong at training you get pulled in and get a rocket,” he insisted. “It might be from one of the boys and it might be from one of the coaches. Gregor is not shy. To him, a spade is a spade and we’ll get told.
“Attitude is massive – it underpins everything,” he added. “The higher the level, it almost becomes a simpler game. A lot of the time, the team that is most fired up and most desperate to win will probably win the game.”