James Horwill Axed as Australia Captain, Ben Mowen and Quade Cooper Promoted

Ben BlackmoreFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2013

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 24:  James Horwill of Australia looks on during The Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Westpac Stadium on August 24, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Australia will attempt to usher in a new era when they face England at Twickenham on Saturday, after axing James Horwill as skipper.

The Wallabies have endured a dire run of form over the summer, and Horwill has paid the price, with Ben Mowen the man to capitalise:

Intriguingly, the erratic figure of Quade Cooper has been named vice-captain for the Autumn Tour, which sees the Wallabies face England, Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in consecutive weeks.

It is a huge show of faith from Australia coach Ewen McKenzie in the talent of Cooper, who is undoubtedly capable of magic from the middle of the park, but all too often drops an error into his game.

Horwill oversaw the summer campaign, which witnessed a series defeat against the British and Irish Lions before Australia were truly outclassed in the Rugby Championship, losing every game played against New Zealand and South Africa.

The back-row forward has 43 caps to his name, but McKenzie wants Horwill to rediscover his best form without the pressure of the captaincy.

James Pandaram provides the quotes, per Fox Sports:

I just want James to concentrate on his football. There's a few technical things for him to focus on, plus I feel he needs to concentrate on playing and giving us what he's good at.

I feel it hasn't been there in recent weeks … I look at everything around form and at the moment I think he's got more in him. I'm going to concentrate on that. We need his A game.

I think he's been a little bit off the pace in what he's capable of delivering and I want him to focus on that.

McKenzie is fast developing a reputation for making big calls during his reign. Prior to Horwill’s axing, he dismissed James O’Connor from the setup due to poor discipline—per Mike Dawes of the Daily Mail—and also left Will Genia on the bench for part of the recent Rugby Championship.

It is suggested by Pandaram that Horwill may even have been dropped to the bench, had Rob Simmons been fit to start at flanker.

Mowen’s selection as captain is an interesting development. As Pandaram reports, he will be leading a group of players earning triple his salary due to a new salary policy introduced by the ARU:

Mowen, a late bloomer, is in just his first year with the Wallabies, but will be the only captain of any major rugby country not earning top-up money from his national union.

Mowen's earnings are limited to his Brumbies contract and Wallabies match payments, while some Australian teammates who signed ARU top-up deals before the new policy was implemented are earning triple his salary.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Wallabies captain Ben Mowen leads his team onto the field during The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and Argentina at Patersons Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Perth, Australia.  (Photo by Camero
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The faith in Cooper should be welcomed by Australian supporters, who had to witness a side lacking imagination and variation against the Lions.

Genia and Israel Folau provided the odd magic moment, but the Wallabies lacked the ability to penetrate the red wall with any consistency.

The culture of Australian rugby has never been one of attrition and endeavour.

Over the years, they have boasted some of the finest backs in the sport, with Stephen Larkham, Joe Roff and Matt Giteau just three to have excited their public.

Cooper is almost guaranteed to start the important Tests of the Autumn Tour, signalling McKenzie’s intention to play expansive rugby—even at the risk of the odd mistake.

It is a line-in-the-sand moment for Australian rugby and could not have been more necessary as the 2015 World Cup begins to loom on the horizon.

Australia team to face England: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, James Horwill, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (capt)

Replacements: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Ben McCAlman, Nic White, Christian Leali'ifano, Bernard Foley.