Wallabies Captain Horwill Cleared to Play in Lions Decider

Australia captain James Horwill is free to play in this week’s deciding rugby Test against the British and Irish Lions after being cleared of stamping in the series opener for the second time in 10 days.

Toronto-based independent arbitrator Graeme Mew rejected the International Rugby Board’s appeal against the June 23 decision to clear Horwill of stamping or trampling on the head of rival lock Alun Wyn Jones, the Australian Rugby Union said.

“I know what happened and I’m glad the right result was made in the end,” Horwill said in a news conference at the Wallabies’ Sydney hotel today. “I feel very vindicated.”

Following “extensive deliberation” after a 2 1/2 hour hearing conducted last night via videoconference, Mew concluded that the judicial officer overseeing the initial hearing had not made any errors of law or principle in his ruling, the ARU said.

“There was sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable judicial officer could have reached the decision that was made,” Mew said in his findings, which were announced after noon Sydney time today. “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, 28, had faced the possibility of joining Lions captain Sam Warburton on the sidelines for the July 6 decider at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, a match he described as the biggest rugby game in Australia since the 2003 World Cup final.

‘Fair and Thorough’

Horwill was originally exonerated by IRB-appointed New Zealand judicial officer Nigel Hampton after being cited for an alleged stamp on Wyn Jones’s head in the third minute of Australia’s 23-21 loss in the first Test in Brisbane. Hampton ruled that on the balance of probabilities, he could not find an intentional or deliberate action of stamping or trampling.

Second-rower Horwill said he didn’t get much sleep while Mew deliberated from Toronto and found out he was free to play at about 10 a.m. today during a training session.

“I’ve had to get on with it,” he added. “I probably wouldn’t like to see another player go through that, but it was incredibly fair and thorough in both hearings.”

The Dublin-based IRB said in a statement that it “fully accepts the decision” by Mew. It was the first time the governing body challenged a ruling to exonerate a player.

‘Right Approach’

“While ultimately not proving successful in its appeal, the IRB is satisfied that it took the right approach to further examine the case and subsequently lodge an appeal in the interests of player welfare as well as to uphold the disciplinary rules,” the IRB said.

The Lions, seeking their first series victory in 16 years, lost their captain for the decider yesterday when Welsh flanker Warburton was ruled out because of a hamstring tear.

Warburton got injured during his team’s 16-15 loss to Australia in Melbourne three days ago, which tied the best-of-three contest at 1-1. Just three points separated the teams in the opening two matches.

“They’ve both been pretty epic struggles and there’s not a lot separating both teams,” Horwill said. “I can’t see Saturday night being too much different.”

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