x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Australia's James Horwill vindicated after being cleared to play

Captain given clean chit following second hearing into alleged stamping of Alun-Wyn Jones, the British & Irish Lions player, in first rugby union Test.

James Horwill says he feels vindicated after being cleared of stamping Alun-Wyn Jones.
James Horwill says he feels vindicated after being cleared of stamping Alun-Wyn Jones.

James Horwill, the Australia captain, has been cleared to play in Saturday's deciding Test against the British & Irish Lions in Sydney.

An appeal by the International Rugby Board (IRB) for his alleged stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones – overseen by independent appeal officer Graeme Mew – was not upheld, ensuring the original decision to exonerate Horwill stands.

"There was sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable judicial officer could have reached the decision that was made," Mew said.

"Accordingly it could not be said that the judicial officer was manifestly wrong or that the interests of justice otherwise required his decision be overturned."

Horwill brought his foot down on to Jones' head in the third minute of Australia's 23-21 defeat in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium and the Lions second row subsequently required stitches in a wound above his eye.

A disciplinary hearing held 24 hours later determined that on the balance of probabilities there was no act of foul play.

The judgment was widely condemned and the IRB reacted by announcing on Thursday that following an extensive review of the case it would appeal.

After two and a half hours of discussions conducted by video conference, Mew retired to consider his decision and gave his verdict shortly before Australia were due to convene for a rescheduled news conference with Horwill.

"For the appeal to succeed the IRB would have to establish that there was some misapprehension of law or principle by the judicial officer or that his decision was so clearly wrong or manifestly unreasonable that no judicial officer could have reached the conclusion that he did," Mew said.

Mew also stated that the IRB's appeal had been properly taken in the discharge of its responsibilities to promote and ensure player welfare and to protect the image and the reputation of the game.

Under regulation 17.22.2 the IRB has the right to appeal disciplinary decisions but 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.

"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," read an IRB statement.

A beaming Horwill, who revealed that he had been unable to sleep overnight while waiting for Mew's verdict which he received during a weights session, welcomed what he viewed as the correct outcome.

"I'm very relieved. The two hearings have been very fair. I found out about 10am [4am UAE time]," the 28-year-old lock said.

"I was confident because I know what happened and I'm glad the right result was made in the end.

"I love what I do and it means a hell of a lot to me to lead my country in what is probably the biggest game since the World Cup final in 2003.

"I'm very excited by the opportunity and now we can focus on the game, which is what's important. I feel very vindicated by the ruling.

"Other than not getting much sleep, it hasn't caused any disruption. I've just gone on with it, that's the reality of what we do."

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) had earlier been disappointed by the IRB's intervention, while the Lions were forced to deny suggestions that they had put pressure on the global game's governing body to act.

Horwill protested his innocence on Friday, stating that the nine camera angles used during the original disciplinary hearing proved his innocence.

"I've played 130 professional rugby games and have never been cited once, never attending any judicial hearing," Horwill said.

"I had no intent and it was a complete accident and unfortunately accidents happen in rugby. It's a contact sport."

The IRB subsequently issued a longer statement accepting Mew's decision and maintaining that lodging an appeal was the right course of action.

"While ultimately not proving successful in its appeal, the IRB is satisfied that it took the right approach under Regulation 17.22.2 and in line with the tours agreement between Australia and the British & Irish Lions to further examine the case and subsequently lodge an appeal in the interests of player welfare as well as to uphold the disciplinary rules," read the statement.

"The IRB is also satisfied the judicial review was entirely thorough with the appeal officer reserving his judgment to allow further extensive consideration of the submissions by both parties.

"The protection of players from foul play, intentional or otherwise, is vital in upholding the values and image of rugby and to send a clear message to all levels of the game that such acts are unacceptable.

"In light of the potential adverse implications, the IRB is keen to ensure all acts of foul play involving the head should be given serious and thorough consideration. This was recognised by the appeal officer in his decision.

"The IRB would like to acknowledge the professional manner in which the Australian Rugby Union managed the process as host union of the tour. The IRB will be making no further comment on the case."

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