VERN Cotter is a coach who is always on the lookout for signs of character as well as the obvious playing ability, and you feel he can’t help but be impressed by the mettle shown by centre Peter Horne.
The nature of sport is all about responding to setbacks but some face sterner challenges than others and the 25-year-old Fifer has certainly tackled more than his fair share in the last couple of years.
The most serious of which was the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered against South Africa on the summer tour of 2013, which ruled him out of most of the following season. He was able to return to the Glasgow side the following April and managed to force his way on to last summer’s Scotland tour after Cotter’s arrival as head coach.
Understandably, after almost a year out, Horne struggled initially to rediscover his old form and was left out of the national squad for the autumn Test series.
However, he got his head down again and managed to get himself back in the reckoning come the Six Nations and got the chance to start at stand-off against Italy at BT Murrayfield, filling in for his Scotstoun team-mate Finn Russell after he was suspended following his red card on citation in the Wales game.
There was more disappointment in store, though, as Horne was responsible for the missed touch from a penalty near the end which resulted in Italy forcing a penalty try and inflicting a crushing defeat on the Scots that opened the door to a Wooden Spoon whitewash.
Horne is clearly not a man to wallow as, rather than suck the life out of his season, it acted as a fresh catalyst. When injury struck his club’s first-choice centre pairing of Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett, greater responsibility fell on Horne’s shoulders and he proved up to the task as an electric run of form helped the Warriors to that famous Guinness Pro12 title.
It pushed him right back into the Test picture and after the four warm-up games it seems a good bet that Horne-Bennett is the front rank pairing as things stand.
“I keep saying you just have to control the controllable and let everything else take care of itself,” said Horne this week when asked about the rollercoaster he has been on in the past two years.
“If you are playing well and putting in positive performances, you will get rewards and opportunities. After the Six Nations, for me it was just about getting away and working hard at Glasgow. I didn’t even really think about the World Cup, I just tried to fill my jersey and put in as good a performance I could every week.
“At the end of last season, we had such a good run with Glasgow, there were so many big games – it meant you couldn’t really think about anything other than the next weekend. I had to control what I could control.
“[Backs coach] Duncan Hodge and Vern were through at Glasgow quite a bit. They made it clear to everyone that it was just about going out and playing well – and that, if you put your hand up by playing well in those last few games of the season, you’d be in the squad.”
The former Bell Baxter pupil and Howe of Fife product, who was also a talented tennis player in his youth, feels that he has hit a good rhythm at just the right time.
“Off the back of last season, I feel like I’m just a lot more confident in my own game. I tend not to worry as much about stuff.
“Things can happen, there’s no point in getting down about it all. You have to play every moment in the game as it comes, there’s no point in worrying about what’s gone.
“I used to get really tense, I was so desperate to do well for everyone that I would worry about a lot of stuff leading into games.
“Now I’m a lot more chilled. That comes from having a few more years’ playing, I guess. I’m 26 next month, I’m not the fresh-faced young buck on the scene any more. So I guess I am a lot more laid-back about things.
“It used to make me laugh. I’m one of those players who likes to be prepared to the max, so I would study the opposition, everything about them. I would know that, if they were doing a five-man lineout, what play was probably going to come. Or what they’d do from a seven-man lineout.
“I still do everything. But now, when I go into the game, I just play every minute as it comes.”
Horne chuckles when asked if he maybe has a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD].
“No I wouldn’t say I have OCD but when I had the knee injury I tried loads of things,” he explained.
“Coming back from my ACL [injury] I would try absolutely everything and anything. When it comes to rugby, I would hate to be going into a game on a Friday or a Saturday and knowing if I’d studied the opposition closer then I’d have been able to read a play better.
“I’d hate to ask myself if I’d gone to the pool to do a session of recovery would my legs be feeling better. I like to try and do absolutely everything I can so that I know going into a game that I’m at the best place I can possibly be.”
The World Cup is now just around the corner and, like the rest of the squad, Horne is bursting with excitement to get out on the pitch and get going.
“As a collective group we have ambitions to go far in this World Cup,” he stated. “We won’t start blowing smoke as we understand it’s a massive challenge. There are no egos, nobody believes we have cracked it just because we have ran a couple of teams close.
“We need that killer instinct to win game and at this World Cup the games will be decided on little instances. The collective is stronger than any of the previous squads I’ve ever been involved with.
“We have this desperation to get out there and really do well and you can see that in the way we’ve been defending. The amount of times we’ve been under the cosh but held out and came up with some big plays has been great. We have some bite about us which will stand us in good stead.”