IRISH Pro 14 rugby club Connacht’s motto ‘stronger in green’ really suits new recruit David Horwitz – Australia’s only Jewish Super Rugby player.
Before playing 27 games for the NSW Waratahs, he got his start as a fresh-faced teenager with the Galloping Greens (Randwick) in the Shute Shield.
But after a frustrating 2018 season on the sidelines with the Melbourne Rebels, the 23-year-old has arrived in the Emerald Isle for pre-season training – and he has big plans for the upcoming Pro 14 and European Challenge Cup seasons.
Founded in 1885, Connacht – based in the city of Galway – is one of four professional Irish rugby clubs, and is renowned for its close-knit community, vocal fan base, rainy weather and flowing Guinness.
Galway supporters come out to watch their team play whether it is raining, hailing or shining, to be sure, and Horwitz is keen to soak up that atmosphere.
“The love for the game over here is unlike anything I have ever experienced,” Horwitz told The AJN from Connacht last week.
“The town [Galway’s residents] are genuinely passionate about their rugby and I can’t wait to hear them roar.
“Ireland’s national team is currently ranked number two in the world, and the standard is equally high [in Pro 14] to that of Super Rugby, so to get that opportunity to join a fantastic team like Connacht, where I can test and improve my game through the rigours of a 35-game season in testing conditions, was a no-brainer.”
Horwitz, who can play at inside centre or his favourite position of fly-half, was the 2017 Maccabi NSW Jewish Sportsman of the Year but his Super Rugby fortunes turned upon shifting to the Melbourne Rebels late last year – a club that went on a massive recruitment drive, signing up several Wallabies stars including utility back Reece Hodge.
After being overlooked for a starting spot, Horwitz decided in March to sign with Connacht, and spend the following four months playing for his old club Randwick and doing strength and conditioning training.
He told The AJN the decision to leave Super Rugby “was definitely not taken lightly, but it was a fairly easy one when everything was taken into account”.
“However, when you storybook your own rugby trajectory, you envision a perfectly smooth transition through the Super Rugby ranks and onto achieving the ultimate goal of representing your country.
“Every decision in rugby so far has been in an effort to achieve that goal, and similarly, I feel this decision to go play in the Pro 14 is no different.
“Irish rugby teams are known for their professionalism and attention to detail and additionally, the competition boasts the champions of Europe [Leinster].”
Horwitz admits the first half of this year “did not go as planned”, but he was able to use the situation as “an extended pre-season” and he is now excitedly counting the days until Connacht’s first trial game on August 18, and their season-opener against Glasgow on September 1.
Connacht won the Pro 14 in 2015/16 but performed poorly since in the competition that features teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa – and its pool in the European Challenge Cup includes French giants Bordeaux and Perpignan.
But its fans are optimistic of success under new head coach, Aussie Andy Friend.
Connacht boasts Irish national team players Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion, new signing from Munster Robin Copeland, and Australians Kyle Godwin, Colby Fainga’a and Jarrad Butler.
Horwitz said, “The club is definitely very ambitious … and I can immediately tell this is a place that whatever you give, you get back, so I’m trying my hardest to put my best foot forward.
“The boys are all very welcoming, and it’s comforting to hear the Aussie accent of Friendy, even if he is screaming at you to run harder.”
Apart from adapting to the style of Irish rugby, Horwitz’s other challenge is understanding the Irish accent.
He quipped, “I find the best way to understand it is to watch the words leave the speaker’s mouth – seriously – but there’s an Aussie who’s been here a fair while and he’s been mediating a lot of my conversations!”