Thursday 23 November 2017

Brendan Fanning: Horwill's exoneration and O'Connell's misfortune has saved series for the Wallabies

Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, standing side by side for the last time as Lions on Saturday
Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, standing side by side for the last time as Lions on Saturday
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

One minute the Wallabies are faced with losing their captain, possibly from the series; the next they not only have him back on board again, but with the added bonus of seeing their opponents robbed of their lineout director and most experienced forward.

So James Horwill walks back in one door with a big smile on his face, and Paul O'Connell goes out the other, with what has become a familiar look of resignation. It was game changing stuff.

Horwill's escape has saved the series for the Wallabies. Or rather it has put them back on the map. He may not be the director of their lineout but he is their spiritual leader, and given the freakish set of circumstances that surrounds the squad currently - between injuries and legal matters (Pat McCabe is ruled put while Digby Ioane has the law on his case) - taking the field without  Horwill on Saturday would have given the Lions an immense advantage.

You may wonder how he got off the charge of stamping on the face of Alun Wyn Jones. I have seen only the angle that is in the public domain, and it looks simple enough: early minutes of a hugely hyped Test match and along comes an opportunity to leave a mark on a prone opponent - his opposite number as it happened - and he takes it. 

 You juxtapose the sequence in which Horwill pokes Jones on the side of the head with his right foot and wonder how the judicial officer could conclude that this was a man trying to regain his balance. Perhaps there is another angle. In fact there are always other angles. You'd be amazed at the different perspective you can get from these, and the only way you can get them is from the broadcaster or the host union. If Horwill's exoneration is down to one of these then I'd love to see it. If not, then it's another case of a disciplinary hearing throwing up a verdict that beggars belief.

I'm not sure any of this will save Robbie Deans however.  Brisbane - Quade Cooper country - probably wasn't the best place for him to find a sympathetic audience, but he'll struggle to find one anywhere now. The indications are he's considering two options:  A) continue with James O'Connor operating out of position at 10; B): Shift O'Connor to the wing, Israel Folau to full back and Kurtley Beale to outhalf. Either way, he's doomed.

Option B looks like the best move, though it would be an abandonment of a strategy that Deans had maintained pre match was the optimum road to follow - ditching Cooper and running with O'Connor at 10. To depart from that now is Deans admitting that he got it horribly wrong. Moreover, if there are questions marks about Beale's capacity to defend in the 10 channel then it tears the backside out of Deans's line that the reason for omitting Cooper was his questionable competency in the same area.

Meantime the Gat Attack is lobbing grenades accurately into the Wallaby camp. Warren Gatland's verbal volleys over the years have as often gone off in his hand as on the intended target, but his portrayal of Beale as a casual customer who fetched up with the wrong boots has been damaging to the Australian cause.

Allied to Digby Ioane's failure to turn up for a date in court earlier today, regarding an alleged incident when on duty with the Reds in the Super 15, it paints a picture of group lurching from crisis to crisis. Ioane was training with the squad when he was supposed to be in front of a beak. Hard to credit, that. You get the impression there'll be a few more twists and turns before Saturday.

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