Australia angered by appeal over Horwill ‘stamp’
FURIOUS Australian rugby chiefs today came out fighting on behalf of Wallabies captain James Horwill amid fears that he could miss next week's potential third Test showdown against the British and Irish Lions.
Horwill was cleared at a judicial hearing last weekend after being cited for stamping on Lions lock Alun-Wyn Jones during Australia's 23-21 first Test defeat in Brisbane.
The International Rugby Board has now intervened, though, and appealed that decision in an unprecedented move following a not guilty verdict.Although 28-year-old Horwill can play in Saturday's second Test, he must then await the outcome of an appeal hearing to be chaired by Canadian Graeme Mew after this weekend's game.
The Lions currently hold a 1-0 lead, but if Australia claim victory at the Etihad Stadium it would set up a Test series decider in Sydney on July 6.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver reacted strongly within minutes of the IRB appeal being announced.
"This is an unprecedented step taken by the IRB in what is the most important rugby event staged in Australia since the 2003 Rugby World Cup," Pulver said, in a statement.
"While we respect the right of the IRB to intervene, we also respect the knowledge and experience of appointed - and independent - judicial officers, and their expertise to consider evidence and reach sound findings.
"James Horwill was cleared of the stamping charge as per the IRB's established judicial process.
"We are surprised and disappointed that the finding of Mr Hampton (judicial officer) is now not only under question, but deemed to be 'erroneous'.
"In the midst of an extraordinarily successful series that has been 12 years in the making, the re-hearing process - not even taking into consideration the possible outcomes - has the potential to cause serious disruption to the Wallabies and the positive atmosphere surrounding the tour.
"The ARU in no way condones foul play.
"However, the process was followed according to IRB regulations and the decision of an independent judicial officer handed down. What has occurred subsequently is without precedent."
Television replays showed Queensland Reds lock Horwill bring his right boot down on to the head of Jones, who was lying at the bottom of a ruck and later needed stitches above his left eye.
The Lions subsequently referred the incident to the match citing officer, but Horwill escaped punishment from independent judicial officer, New Zealander Nigel Hampton QC, amid a chorus of disbelief that he was not suspended.
The IRB has now confirmed its appeal stance to the ARU following what it described as an extensive review of the case.
In a statement, the IRB said: "As the 2013 Lions tour falls within the scope of the IRB merit-based appointment scheme approved by the IRB Council, the IRB has the right to appeal any decision arising from matches under the scheme.
"Furthermore, given its duty to preserve player welfare at all levels of the game, the IRB is compelled to further examine potential acts of foul play which either potentially or in reality impact on the preservation of player welfare.
"It is important for the IRB to ensure amongst all stakeholders in the game that there is full confidence that priority is given to player welfare and the values of the game."
Speaking today before the IRB's appeal was announced, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans applauded the decision to clear Horwill.
"I've had a lot of experience in these processes and I was part of this process and privy to it," Deans said.
"I can't discuss it publicly for obvious reasons, but we were satisfied with the process and felt it was just and fair."
Under regulation 17.22.2, the IRB has the right to appeal disciplinary decisions, but it has never invoked the rule for a not guilty verdict.
Its only previous intervention led to New Zealand forward Adam Thomson having a one-week ban - also imposed for stamping - increased to two weeks last November on appeal from the IRB.