Saints farewell interview: Rob Horne

The strength of reaction to Rob Horne's retirement from rugby showed just what an impact he had made during his seven-month playing spell at Saints.

Wednesday, 18th July 2018, 3:00 pm
Rob Horne was named supporters' and players' player of the year for 2017/18 (picture: Andy Taylor)

There was an outpouring of shock and raw emotion when it was revealed that the Australian centre had suffered career-ending nerve damage to his right arm just seconds into his first game as captain.

And the chorus of calls for Horne's memorable time at Saints to be marked in a significant manner have only grown louder.

To this day, more than three months on from the east midlands derby at Welford Road, where Saints' stunning win against Leicester Tigers was overshadowed by Horne being stretchered off after a collision with Sione Kalamafoni, Northampton fans still take to social media to request updates on the man they crowned supporters' player of the season.

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Because although Horne, who also won the players' player of the year prize at the end-of-season dinner, may not be able to shape Saints' future, he certainly shaped their past year.

He scored eight tries in just 21 games after arriving from Super Rugby side the Waratahs.

And his no-nonsense approach, both on and off the field, won him plenty of praise.

A straightforward, down-to-earth man, he never craves attention and he seems almost embarrassed to receive any.

Rob Horne was a key player for Saints

But the impact he had on the black, green and gold during his curtailed stay simply could not be ignored.

And, fittingly, Saints have now opted to switch their Gallagher Premiership home game against Leicester Tigers on October 6 from Franklin's Gardens to Twickenham in aid of Horne.

The game will act as a high-profile fundraiser for a player who deserves to bow out on the most sizeable of stages.

Horne will not be able to play, but he will certainly be present, as he is delivering the match ball.

Rob Horne made 21 appearances for Saints

And he will be able to say a proper goodbye to those so desperate for him to do so.

"The term testimonial is not something I've had much exposure to because it's not something that's done in the southern hemisphere, but I know that here it's very much a privilege," Horne said.

"It's clearly something you have to earn to experience.

"At the time, when I was approached about it, it was difficult to accept because I haven't had much exposure to it.

Rob Horne scored eight tries for Saints

"Now I've come around to it and it is about people wanting to show their support and at Twickenham as well - it's one of the great venues in world rugby.

"I've got many special memories at Twickenham as a player and to have that to finish my career would be a pretty special memory."

As Horne says, you have to earn such an occasion.

And, on and off the field, he certainly did that during his time at Saints, with every member of the team that won at Leicester on April 14 keen to pay tribute to his impact on that match.

Horne was not able to play more than a few seconds, but his work as captain during the week was lauded loudly and demonstrated just how important he had become to Saints.

And the affection those at the club feel for him is clearly reciprocated.

"Regardless of my injury, certainly a lot happened during my time at Saints," Horne said. "There was a lot to fit into a year and, in a good way, it's felt like a lot longer than a year.

"I've loved my time here as a Saint and in Northampton so it feels like it will always be a part of me and my family.

"We cherished our time here and no doubt we'll be back here and there.

"It's been a huge year of my life and Northampton will continue to be a part of my life.

"I'm very lucky to have been at a club that's been really genuine.

"There has been very real compassion and it's been invaluable.

"From our medical staff and from management, who have been incredible, and guys in the playing group who visited me in hospital - they don't realise how much that helped.

"They broke me out of that monotony of that time and that's been great."

The early stages of Horne's recovery have certainly been tougher than he could ever have imagined.

And he explained the full extent of the injury, with the details not for the faint-hearted.

"Early on, we couldn't put too much out there about the injury because we didn't know," said the 28-year-old.

"I've been through a fair journey in this short space of time and been open to a whole new world of things that you know exist but you don't really have an appreciation of. I'm well and truly in that space now.

"I suffered a brachial plexus avulsion meaning I detached the five nerves from my spinal cord that control my shoulder, arm and hand.

"As a result of that, I've got full paralysis of my right arm, currently with chronic pain.

"I'm in the pretty early stages of what has been a pretty life-changing injury and event for me.

"It's still very early days but I'm definitely improving and getting there."

It says a lot about the character Horne possesses that he initially tried to shrug off the injury, desperate to avoid the limelight at Welford Road.

"At the time, the guys who were first there will have a pretty good anecdote about it because I was pretty adamant that they should get off me and let me get up," he explained.

"I said I was fine and said I was a bit embarrassed - I didn't want any help.

"(Saints forwards coach) Phil Dowson, who was with me at the time, told me to stay down and that it was okay, but I told him that I needed to get up and I didn't want to show I was hurt.

"But then (head physio) Matt Lee, who was securing my head and neck, said: "Rob, you haven't moved your legs yet".

"And that's when I realised I hadn't.

"I was just kicking and kicking and kicking and I got my right leg moving.

"From there, I realised I should listen to the medics, probably for the first time in my career.

"Everyone who was first to the scene did an incredible job and it was vital to have that level of expertise, from the Saints staff to Tigers medical staff, because some people haven't had that.

"I will be eternally grateful to them in that situation because without that immediate response it could have been a lot worse.

"I'm really grateful for that and with that having happened where it happened, I've been fortunate to have medical staff who are world class and leading in their field.

"It's been a long journey and I'm very much in the early days of that."

But despite the hammer blow that has hit him and his family, Horne remains the same steely human being that he has always been.

"I'm still very much myself," he said, smiling.

"Obviously I've had a life-changing injury.

"You make plans in life and things happen but you reset and go again.

"I'm still very much me and I'm working through what I have to.

"I'm certainly going to embrace what's ahead - new challenges and opportunities that wouldn't come into my thinking without this.

"I suppose a life-changing event resets how you do things and I've met some people who do inspiring things.

"It's certainly helped to put things in perspective."

If there is anyone who can jump the hurdles that will continue to be placed in front of him, it is the teak-tough Horne.

And he is helped by an avalanche of goodwill that has reached him from the rugby community - even though he has never been one for social media.

"My wife keeps me up to date and my family back home, for sure," he said.

"I'd like to take the opportunity to thank the Saints supporters for the overwhelming level of support.

"It does mean a lot.

"It has really helped to know that my emotional investment and care that I've put into my time here has had an impact."

But now Horne must focus on the future.

"We've made the decision recently that we'll return home just for the fact that we need to be back with family and that support network at this time," said Horne, who won 29 Test caps for Australia.

"It's been a really difficult decision because we've certainly made our home here in Northampton.

"We've been a part of the community, definitely our youngest child, who was eight weeks old when we arrived and now he's almost one, so he's spent most of his life here.

"Northampton is always going to be a part of us but the decision came that it's probably time to head back."