LONDON - James Horwill has been dumped as Wallabies skipper amid a radical leadership overhaul which has swept controversial playmaker Quade Cooper into the vice-captaincy.
Thirteen months after his Test career was hanging by a thread following a "toxic" attack on the team environment, a forgiven Cooper has leapfrogged Horwill and Will Genia to be Ben Mowen's shock deputy.
Test rookie Mowen is captain for Sunday morning's (Fiji time) tour-opening clash with England at Twickenham after coach Ewen McKenzie pulled the biggest selection surprise in Australia's professional era.
On it's own, Horwill's demotion is just as unexpected as his stunning ascension two years ago, when coach Robbie Deans replaced Rocky Elsom three weeks before the 2011 World Cup.
The Queensland lock would have also been dropped from the starting pack altogether if not for a training injury to in-form second-row partner Rob Simmons.
McKenzie refused to confirm Horwill was set to be benched but all indications were that Sitaleki Timani would replace him before Simmons aggravated a knee strain.
The coach admitted the 28-year-old's drop in form, caused by an injury-affected past 18 months, was the sole reason for being stripped of the leadership.
"I just want James to concentrate on his football," McKenzie said. "I know what he's capable of and the team needs him at his best.
"He's had a couple of setbacks (this year)... he hasn't had a smooth run. So at this stage I want him to be the hard-working abrasive second-rower I know he can be. We need his A game."
McKenzie had vowed he wouldn't shy away from making the big, tough calls required to turn around the Wallabies after they lost his first three Tests in charge and leaked 112 points.
Since then he's stayed true to his word by dropping Genia and demoting Horwill, his two trusted former Reds generals, banked on Mowen and sent James O'Connor packing.
Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben Mowen (capt), Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Ben McCAlman, Nic White, Christian Leali'ifano, Bernard Foley.