Horn celebrates Lion-hearted milestone

EMIRATES Lions’ Francke Horn celebrates 50 caps for the side after overcoming a heart condition. | Shutterstock

EMIRATES Lions’ Francke Horn celebrates 50 caps for the side after overcoming a heart condition. | Shutterstock

Published Apr 20, 2024


THERE was a time when achieving a 50th cap for a professional rugby team would have been nothing more than a nebulous dream for Lions eighthman Francke Horn.

It was during 2017 that the now 24-year-old was diagnosed with myocarditis – inflammation of the heart – leaving Horn exhausted, breathless and with damage to the organ that was thankfully only temporary. For six months, Horn and his family fretted over his future, and it would take another year before he would be able to return to fitness and play again.

But now – 41 United Rugby Championship, five EPCR Challenge Cup, and three Rainbow Cup matches wiser – Horn will run out against Leinster today, having earned his half-century at franchise level. It might be predictably punny, but in that time Horn has become the heart of this Lions team.

“It came a lot quicker than I thought,” Horn mused, speaking of the achievement earlier this week.

“The 50th will always be special, as is every single game. Leading the team out, especially at home, I wouldn’t want it anywhere else.”

Horn has had some fantastic moments in the famous red-and-white hoop of the Lions, and is hoping for many more in the future, starting with the Lions’ crucial clash against the Irish giants at Ellis Park at 3pm.

“Every single game brings its own memories,” he recalled.

“The away win against Connacht (38-14) a few weeks ago, was a really big win for us. It is something that we could only dream of.

“For a loose-forward to score an 80m try last year (against Ulster in a 39-37 loss), that is also something that will always stay with me. Maybe something like that can happen again [today].

“I hope for a lot of tries,” Horn continued, now looking forward. “That is something that I back myself to do – to play a really attractive brand of rugby that people want.

“There must be a lot of memories of the red scrum cap, because people say they don’t recognise me without it. Hopefully, there will be a lot of games left where the red scrum cap can run around.”

The Lions enter the endgame on the URC this weekend, with Leinster one of their remaining five games in the URC. Victory will, therefore, be key for the Joburgers to manage their play-off objectives in the tournament. Currently, Ivan van Rooyen and Co sit 11th on the log on 34 points, 20 points behind the visitors, but among a cluster of seven teams separated by five points, starting with the fifth-placed Stormers.

Said Horn, of their opponents this weekend: “Leinster are on top of the standings.

“We saw what they have done the last two weeks (in the Champions Cup)… They definitely play an attacking brand of rugby. It is a fast game.

“It will be up to us to slow down their ball, to get our defensive line right and to give ourselves the opportunity to attack… There are five games left, but we can make it eight games. It is not pressure, it is an opportunity to showcase what we can do against top teams and to measure ourselves.”

Leinster, meanwhile, have made 13 changes to the starting XV side that handsomely beat La Rochelle 40-13 last week in the Champions Cup. Despite the changes, Leo Cullen’s depth remains impressive.

Only fullback Cairan Frawley, Andrew Osbourne, who moves from centre to wing, and lock Jason Jenkins, remain in the run-on team, with a further four changes on the bench. Nevertheless, Cullen will rely on veterans – such as scrumhalf Luke McCrath, promoted from the bench, captain Scott Penny and loose-forward partner Max Deegan, and Ireland centurion and prop Cian Healy – to lead the charge from the first whistle.

Emirates Lions starting XV: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Marius Louw (capt), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Sanele Nohamba, 9 Morne van den Berg; 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmaneul Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Ruan Delport, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Morgan Naude;

Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Nico Steyn, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Henco van Wyk

Leinster Starting XV: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Andrew Osborne, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath; 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny (capt), 6 Diarmuid Mangan, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Brian Deeny, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Lee Barron, 1 Cian Healy.

Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 San Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee