IN A POLL to decide the most influential member of the Scotland squad, who would be likely to finish on top? Stuart Hogg, perhaps, given his attacking prowess? Senior figures such as Greig Laidlaw or John Barclay when they are leading the side?
To an extent, it depends on how you define influential, but there is surely a good case to be made for Pete Horne. When it comes to having a reassuring effect on his team-mates, the Glasgow centre is right up there. When you take a closer look at the sort of subtle work that gets overlooked at first glance, much of it is done by him.
He enables others to play at the top of their game, while at the same time remaining remarkably consistent himself. And tonight when Scotland take on the USA, the influence that the 28-year-old has on his team-mates is likely to become more evident than ever, with his younger brother George making his debut at scrum-half.
The pair are very different players, of course. George is perfectly capable of playing some outstanding rugby without his brother being present, and there are aspects of his game which Pete, by his own admission, finds hard to emulate – that turn of speed over five or 10 yards being one of them. But given that the centre is five years older, and given too how long they have been playing rugby, it is inevitable that a lot of Pete’s insight into the game has rubbed off on George.
Of course, the process works in the opposite direction too, as Pete explained earlier this week when asked how it would feel to have his brother alongside him in the Scotland ranks for the first time. “He’s great, he’s got so much energy, and that rubs off on me,” he said. “He’s desperate to pull on a jersey, whether it’s Glasgow or Scotland, and I just try and keep up with him.
“It will be really special playing with George and nice to sing the anthem together. But it will be more something for our family – everyone will be really proud and it will be something we can enjoy when the tour is done. In a couple of weeks once the dust settles we’ll be able to look back on it and enjoy it.
“We know each other inside out – you’ve got that instinct. I can try and keep up with him if he’s got his quick taps or he’s making little snipes – try and make sure that I’m there to get on his shoulder. And, you know, give him a clip round the lug if he needs it as well.
“I think why it’s so competitive is that ever since we were kids he’s been right into whatever I was into, whether it be football, tennis or rugby. If I was ever to practise anything he’d be out doing it with me – he’s always wanted to beat me at absolutely everything.
“He’s a competitive little bugger, which is great. In games like this when the going gets tough, that competitive edge will really drive you through.”
“Adam [Hastings] is the same. He’s a very competitive kid. We’ve got a good competitive squad and that’s what you need.”
You do, but you also need cooperation, and a willingness to put the success of the team before any individual desires. In this respect, too, Horne is right up there with any member of the squad, going so far as to explain that he judges his own performances by how well others have done.
“When I come off the park I can tell if I’ve had a good game – if Finn [Russell] has played well or whoever’s played 10 has played well. If my outside backs have played well, that’s probably a reflection that I’ve had a good game.
“My game’s built on trying to make everyone else look good – just work rate with a little bit of brutality around the ruck. Within our group I get a lot of raps – the boys see what goes on and thank me enough. I get more than the credit that I deserve within our squad and with our coaching staff. That’s good enough for me: I’m happy with that.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than making breaks and scoring tries, but I think I get as much joy out of trying to put Hoggy through a gap and seeing him score a try that I’ve played a part in.”
With that sort of broad perspective on the game, it would be no surprise if Horne went into coaching once his playing days are over. He is already well known for the meticulous preparation he puts into matches – a quality that has been especially useful this week, when the searing heat of Houston has cut down on the amount of training the squad are able to do.
“We’re doing a lot of work on the laptops, especially this week because you can’t be out there training for an hour and a half, two hours,” he explained. “You’ve got to make sure you get through all your detail, do your homework, know your opposite man, know your role. As long as everyone’s doing that, then you can relax and make sure you get a bit of downtime – try and get away from rugby for a little bit and make sure you;re head isn’t frazzled by the time the game comes, because that would be a disaster. Be ready to get out there and express yourself at the weekend.”
And how exactly do the squad get away from rugby? By day, small groups of them have been wandering around the Galleria, a shopping mall just a few minutes’ walk from their hotel. In the evening, the group tends to gather together.
“I’m right into my food, so I quite like going out and finding a nice place for a coffee or a bite to eat,” Horne added. “It is tougher here, because being so hot you don’t want to be outside – you kind of want to go from AC place to AC place.
“We’ve got right into the cards. We’ve got a nightly Love Island group – we get it up on the projector and watch it on the big screen as a big group. We started that the first couple of nights we were here, so it’s been good fun, gets everyone together.
“Half the squad was watching it by the second night. Everyone’s been loving it.
“We’ve got an Xbox with us as well, and a couple of the boys sign into that. We play Fortnite, and there’ll be about 30 boys watching it. It makes everyone get involved and it’s good fun.”