Have you got one Tim Horan story for us that hasn’t seen the light of day that you know would embarrass him?

I’d be walking into something there. He’s got a microphone now and always seems to have the last word.

He was a funny bloke to have around, wasn’t he?

He was. Practical jokes were his thing – distractive relief, I think you might have called it. That kind of thing binds a team together.

Jason Little Portrait Jason Little Portrait
Images: Getty Images

I have a photographer mate, Mike Larder, who travelled with you and Tim when you toured country Queensland with the Bill trophy after your win in ‘91. He reckons I should ask you how much panelbeating needed to be done to the trophy after you brought it back?

I don’t think it was repairs. I can’t remember where we were, Goondiwindi I think – we’d go to a country town and meet with the rugby community, and that always revolved around a pub of some kind, and I think we got 20 kays out of town and realised that we’d left the World Cup on the bar and had to go back and get it! My Mum and Dad lived at Jimbour, a little country town just out of Dalby, and I remember having breakfast at their pig farm with the World Cup sitting on the table. Jimbour had about ten people in it. Then when we won in ’99 we did the same trip and this time we had the security guard – you weren’t allowed to touch it. The guard had a gun and you couldn’t get it out of the box. Things have changed.

You enjoying this year’s Super 15? It’s been a step up, hasn’t it?

Yep. It has. The Reds have been great, the Waratahs have generally been pretty good, the Rebels and Force have had some surprise good and bad games, so if they can keep that momentum it’ll hold them in good stead for later in the year.

Do you reckon they’re playing better or have they finally got the rules sorted? 

I don’t know if they’ve got the rules sorted – the interpretation of some of the rules has been good. But when you bring a Northern Hemisphere referee down and play under the same rules it can be a debacle. Southern Hemisphere referees and how they administer the game has got better than it is in other countries. It’s a different mindset over there, even among the supporters: 90,000 people will come away from a 6-3 game and think it’s wonderful. The last World Cup in France was the worst. It was terrible. Even after Australia got knocked out, the other semi-finals and final were excruciating to watch.

Who’s impressed you in the Australian Super rugby ranks?

I’m a big fan of Kurtley Beale’s, big fan of Quade Cooper’s, Adam Ashley-Copper, Berrick Barnes, James O’Connor – there’s some really, really good players across a number of positions.

So what does your Wallaby backline look like?

Will Genia, Quade Cooper, I’d have Berrick Barnes there because he gives Quade Cooper a bit of direction. To me Quade can be a bit ... loose.

Flamboyant? Campese-esque?

Yeah, definitely. Berrick Barnes balances that very nicely. Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside, Kurtley Beale at fullback, James O’Connor on one wing and Drew Mitchell on the other if he is fit. You’ve got all those guys in great form ...

It’s a small backline though, isn’t it?

It is, but you’ve got Adam Ashley-Cooper – gee, he’s strong. And I think his performance against those massive French centres last year showed he’s up to it. But I agree that’s the only issue – Digby Ioane as well, you’ve got to have him in there somewhere, just for that same reason. I think you’ve got enough size in there then. And you’re always going to get an injury. If you’ve then got Matt Giteau coming off the bench, 25 to 30 minutes to go, he could cause some real damage. And finally we’ve got some guys who can really kick goals, which has let us down in previous years. Same guys, but they’ve knuckled down and got it going.

So whose going to win this year's World Cup?

Interesting, isn’t it? New Zealand at home is going to be very formidable. I mean, the only other time they’ve won it is when they hosted it. They would say the pressure’s going to be high for them, especially at home, but I think it’ll be a help and not a hindrance.

They’re going to have a hard time positioning themselves as underdogs this time around, aren’t they?

Yeah, very true – they always have. They just have to get over that mental hurdle of being bombed out of World Cups. It’s delicious to think how annoyed the Kiwis will be if Robbie Deans steers the Wallabies to the title, isn’t it?I look at that guy and all our team as very young. At the next World Cup they’ll be at their absolute prime. What I’d hate to see is Robbie leave and go back to New Zealand when you know we’re going to get so much better. But yeah, it would be wonderful to see.

Are we good enough to get to the final?

Oh definitely. A year ago I wouldn’t have said that, but I think our scrum has really improved. For the first time in the history of Super rugby we’ve got Australian teams dominating in the scrum. We got a pushover try in New Zealand, which has never been heard of. Even the Reds’ forward pack dominated the Stormers in South Africa – we’ve never seen this before. And it’s fantastic. Our challenge is that referees have the preconceived thought in their heads that the Australian scrum isn’t strong, so when a scrum goes down it’s automatically against us. That has to change and I think it will change. I think we’ve been unfairly treated in the scrums the last couple of years.

I take it you’re going to be over there ...

Yes, I’m going over on a Cruiseco ship for a week, for semi-finals and finals. Plus we do a circumnavigation of the north island in that week ‒ I’ve never seen any of New Zealand except from hotel rooms and rugby stadiums.

Footnote: Jason Little is a Cruiseco ambassador.

‒ Graem Sims