Lions staying on their feet in the PR game
Lessons have been learned from previous tours in not winding up these wounded Walllabies
Graham Rowntree faces the media in Melbourne. The Lions’ forwards coach was was at pains to move on from James Horwill being cleared of stamping. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
A Lions tour seems to scarcely go by without some controversy regarding disciplinary issues. Akin to previous odysseys to the Southern Hemisphere, as a result of James Horwill being cleared of reckless play for his third-minute stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones late on Sunday night in Brisbane, the tourists moved on to Melbourne and began showing the first signs of an us-against- the-country mentality.
The third-minute incident involving Australia’s captain wasn’t on the scale of Duncan McRae’s assault on Ronan O’Gara in the Waratahs-Lions game 12 years ago. Nor was it remotely comparable to the double-spearing of Brian O’Driscoll in the first minute of the first Test by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, when Umagawas cleared of foul play in 2005.
Nor was it nearly as nasty as Schalk Burger’s hands coming into contact with the eye area of Luke Fitzgerald, as the saying goes, in the first minute of the Springboks’ second Test win in 2009.
Burger was merely yellow- carded, though subsequently banned for eight weeks, though afterwards, a la the Speargate fall-out, neither he nor Pieter de Villiers apologised. Note the early timing of the last three incidents.
Nevertheless, there was even a feeling among the Australian media the Wallabies’ captain was in big trouble in advance of his hearing, which ultimately took four hours and so missed the deadlines for yesterday’s Australian papers.
As the former Munster forwards coach Laurie Fisher, now with the Brumbies, tweeted on Sunday: “Doesn’t look good for James Horwill but he has got away with it before. Judicial decision will have massive implications.”
By the time Horwill was cleared, the rumours of O’Connell having fractured his arm were circling on Twitter, and Fisher summed up the general feeling when tweeting: “Paulie out Horwill in, double whammy. Advantage Wallabies.”
The Lions’ forwards coach Graham Rowntree was the first member of the tourists’ coaching staff to speak on their behalf in the fallout of this double whammy which tilted the balance toward the Wallabies, and clearly as part of an agreed policy, played the deadest of straight bats to all questions on the matter.
Asked was he deliberately trying not to antagonise the Aussies, he smiled: “I’m not one for antagonising people. No, I’ve got enough to worry about. What can you say? You can’t change anything. We just have to get on with it.”
Like a dog with a bone, the English writers keep probing as best they could. Given players had been repeatedly told not to overstep the mark, did the judicial ruling not make it difficult to reinforce that point?
“No,” he maintained,
He was asked if the thought the IRB might review the ruling.
“Ask me another question. I’ve got nothing else to say on that. It’s not a talking point within the group any more. We’re looking forward.”
But the Lions had referred the incident for citing.
“It’s been dealt with, let’s move on . . . please.”
Then it was put to him did he not just think that the decision was rubbish. Rowntree smiled. Everyone laughed. But there really was no point in making an issue out of it. Better to grin and bear it.