TWO MONTHS ago Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team's utility back Andrew Horrell was being hailed as a possible end-of-year tourist with the All Blacks.
Such was the extent of Horrell's contribution to Super Rugby's title-winning Chiefs. On the eve of tonight's Ranfurly Shield challenge and ITM Cup Premiership clash against Waikato in Hamilton Horrell was realistic about his chances of an ABs call-up.
"To be honest I don't think I've been playing well enough. But if I play well and help the Magpies upset Waikato it will be a boost to my chances," Horrell said after yesterday's Captain's Run at Napier's Park Island.
"This is our best chance to win the shield. We've trained well and we're fired up. We're keen to turn it on for our supporters ... all we have to do is play smart," Horrell explained.
One thing Horrell is certain about is his preferred position, second five-eighth. After his Chiefs campaign former Magpies co-coach and Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry predicted Horrell will make the No 12 role his main priority despite having the ability to play first five-eighth, fullback and centre equally as well.
"I'm just happy to get on the field but I do prefer 12," he said.
Horrell, 24, who is contracted until the end of the 2013 Super season with the Chiefs, will mark delisted Chief Jackson Willison tonight.
"We're pretty good mates. I know he will have a point to prove ... it will be a tough battle," Horrell said.
Horrell pointed out while the likes of himself, hooker Hika Elliot and winger Tino Nemani have plenty of knowledge on their Chiefs teammates in the Waikato side it's the same for Waikato's Chiefs.
Magpies coach Craig Philpott has made one change to his starting XV used in Wednesday night's 44-3 loss to Canterbury in Napier, with former All Black Elliot starting ahead of former New Zealand Under-20s rake Ash Dixon who returns to the bench. A top performance from Elliot and a Magpies victory could promote Elliot ahead of Wellington's Dane Coles for a berth in the ABs end-of-year tour team.
Philpott has also made one change to his subs bench, with Taradale's Jodi Allen replacing Napier Old Boys Marist prop Mitch Alcock. Philpott said Allen was a mobile forward who has the potential to make a difference during the final 15 to 20 minutes.
Waikato coach and former Magpies lock Chris Gibbes has made one change to his starting XV which won the Ranfurly Shield last week. Tim Mikkelson is on New Zealand Sevens duty so Joe Webber comes onto the wing in his place with uncapped winger Navi Sikivou retaining his spot on the bench from the Counties Manukau match.
Gibbes has rewarded the players who did the job so well in New Plymouth but he said their work is certainly not finished yet.
"We are happy with our current form but the job isn't done. Our focus is on winning the shield again [against Hawke's Bay] and to make sure we lock it away for the summer," Gibbes said.
"Hawke's Bay will be up for the challenge and we know we will need to be at our best."
Gibbes played for the Magpies when they last challenged Waikato for the shield in 1999. Waikato won the match 86-0.
Three members of Hawke's Bay's Holt Trust, John Holt, Tony Bryan and Kevin Wilkins, had the job of presenting the Magpies with their jerseys for the challenge and this was done after yesterday's Captain's Run at Napier's Park Island.
"Our message was short and sharp. Before wishing the team all the best we stressed the importance of the three P's ... pace, possession and passing," former Magpie Bryan said.
"There was little evidence of those three P's from the Magpies against Canterbury but Canterbury displayed them well," Bryan said.
Bryan played fullback and first five-eighth for Taradale and the Magpies in the 1960s. He didn't play in any shield fixtures.
"I got to play in some of the non-shield games when some of the shield stars wanted a rest," he recalled.
Wilkins played for Wairarapa Bush in a shield challenge during the 1960s. Holt had one of his grandsons, Alec, who was busy getting autographs on Magpies posters.
Alec wasn't shy when asked who his favourite Magpie was and pointed to first five-eighth Ihaia West.
Should the Magpies follow the advice of his grandfather and his mates and win the shield Alec may consider all of the Magpies their heroes should they return home with the log o' wood at the front of the team bus in the early hours of tomorrow.
Magpies fans wanting to wish the team all the best for the challenge can fax them on 07 838-1367 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Magpies sponsors and supporters travelling to Hamilton will be meeting at the Helm Bar, 22 Ulster Street from midday to lubricate their voices and fuel up before kick off. Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union's commercial manager Jay Campbell said it would be great for all Magpies fans to meet there and head across to the stadium together.
The TAB opened the book on the Waikato v Magpies match the day after the holders won the shield last Wednesday.
It opened with Waikato offering $1.37 and Hawke's Bay at $2.90.
Following Waikato's win over Counties Manukau and the Magpies' losses to Manawatu and Canterbury, the odds widened to $1.15 Waikato and $5 Hawke's Bay.
That is a 7.5 points start to a 12.5-point one. But, then again, who picked Waikato to lift the shield last week?