Horan's break

Rugby union diary Owen Slot
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The Independent Online
AN HISTORIC tennis match took place in Brisbane last week when John Eales, the Australian lock forward, played Tim Horan, the Australian centre. Eales won, but Horan was never really in with a chance given the way that Eales made him run around the court. The result, though, was irrelevant - what mattered was that Horan had survived the most strenuous test of his reconstructed knee since it collapsed nine months ago.

Horan, 24, was one of the best centres in the world when he started the Super Ten final for Queensland against Natal in May. Mid-match, shifting his weight to tackle Andre Joubert, the Natal full-back, his left knee gave way, ligaments snapped, cartilage tore, bones chipped and the joint dislocated. Medics gave him little chance of playing again, certainly not at international level, and Horan's life since then has been dedicated to proving them wrong.

He says: "The only question I get asked is: `Will you be all right for the World Cup?' "And his answer? "I don't know. I'd love to, but I just can't tell how quickly and how far I'll mend. I need a bit more bend in the knee so that I can sprint. I'm at 70 per cent pace at the moment."

After his operation, Horan cut himself off from the rugby community, disappearing to a north Sydney beach house with his wife, daughter and Greg Craig, the Australian team physio, who taught him to walk again. In September, when a staple was removed from the joint, it turned out that the injury had healed insufficiently, and it was back to step-by- step with Craig again.

"I was shot to bits by that and I just wanted to throw it in," he says. "The only guys I can talk to about the pain are Tim Gavin and Willie Ofahengaue. They've had knee reconstructions themselves and know the pain. The biggest problem is trying to get the knee to bend. It's like someone bending your finger back - you're screaming for them to stop, but they carry on."

AS RUGBY UNION and rugby league have become more neighbourly, so have Orrell and Wigan. Orrell already have the younger brother of Wigan's Va'aiga Tuigamala on their books, and alongside him next season they will field Dean Kenny, the 30-year-old brother-in-law of Wigan's Frano Botica.

Kenny, who has toured with the All Blacks as a replacement stand-off, arrived in the area earlier this season to set up a chiropractice. He has played occasionally for Orrell seconds and, if the practice settles, may well step up a level next season.

Another international standoff will grace the Courage League next season. Scotland's Gregor Townsend. has decided to play for Northampton instead of London Scottish, for whom he originally signed. All Townsend now needs to confirm the move is a job down south. City corporate financiers should expect to receive his CV soon.

HAMMERSMITH and Fulham RFC have a prized asset - their ground. In the past, Queen's Park Rangers and Fulham football clubs have both had designs on their patch of turf near the Hurlingham Club in west London. And now the local paper announced recently that Chelsea FC have joined the queue. "The day after the report," said Chris Cuthbertson, the club secretary, "I got a call from Ken Bates." Cuthbertson was summoned to a meeting at Stamford Bridge where football's Father Christmas not only guaranteed the club's future, but spoke of refurbishment, improved facilities and a sports centre. So Hammersmith and Fulham RFC are happier. Besides a pitch to play on, they may now have a bar to drink in, too.

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