Meddling IRB give Wallabies higher ground before crucial third Test
Home side retain their captain James Horwill for a second time after a judicial hearing
Australian captain James Horwill (top right) laughs with his team mates at a training session in Sydney.
Moving on to the final, decisive third Test of the 2013 series in Sydney on Saturday, and the home side have retained their captain James Horwill for a second time after a judicial hearing, whereas the Lions have lost both his counterpart as lock, Paul O’Connell, and now his counterpart as captain, Sam Warburton. But that’s not all. Compounding this double/double whammy, as it were, the Wallabies have also assumed the moral high ground thanks to the meddling interference of the IRB.
On top of all this, Robbie Deans has been able to retain a largely settled side in comparison to a radically re-altered Lions’ line-up, with the tourists set to make changes in the frontrow, backrow, scrumhalf and midfield as well as unveiling a new captain for the decider.
Horwill himself, his coach Deans, the ARU and the Australian media have all been incensed by the IRB’s decision to appeal the findings of the original Judicial Hearing. The Australian captain had initially been cleared by Judicial Officer Nigel Hampton QC, who found that on the balance of probabilities he could not find an intentional or deliberate action of stamping or trampling on Alun Wyn Jones in the third minute of the first Test.
The IRB may understandably have had misgivings about this verdict, but they would have been better off leaving well enough alone rather than appeal what amounted to their own ruling after independent appeal officer Graeme Mew, from Canada, declined to uphold the IRB’s appeal.
Following a two-and-a-half-hour appeal hearing, conducted by video conference on Monday, which was adjourned to allow Horwill, his legal counsel and Deans to retire to bed at 10.30pm, and extensive deliberation, Mr Mew yesterday concluded that “it could not be said that the Judicial Offer was manifestly wrong or that the interests of justice otherwise required his decision be overturned”.
The game’s governing body has left itself open to charges of undue influence from representatives of the four Home Unions in deciding to appeal its own, if independent, Judicial hearing.
An IRB statement sheepishly accepted Mew’s decision, maintained it was right to “further examine the case” and lodge an appeal in the interests of player welfare, acknowledged “the professional manner in which the Australian Rugby Union managed the process” and said it would be making no further comment on the case. That would be its best contribution to date.
“Idiotic Rugby Board” screamed a headline in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, while Fox Sports generated a “Justice for Horwill” campaign.
The IRB appointed Hampton in the first place and aside from being a well-respected QC, he was the first disciplinary commissioner for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and the chief justice of Tonga. In effect Horwill was tried for the same crime twice, without any new evidence, and there was scant reason for questioning Hampton’s competence.