The International Rugby Board has dropped a major bomb by insisting that Australian captain James Horwill face a new disciplinary hearing.
The Australian Rugby Union has reacted with “surprise” and “disappointment” to the news that the IRB intervened to demand the re-hearing of the foul play charge levelled against the Wallaby captain, Horwill.
The step, coming just a couple of days ahead of the crucial second Test against the British and Irish Lions in Melbourne on Saturday, has sent shockwaves through the Wallaby camp.
Horwill was cleared on a stamping charge – initiated by the B&I Lions – at a Judicial Hearing last Sunday.
Now, in a step taken only once before by the IRB, the international controlling body appealed the outcome and is seeking to overturn the decision of New Zealand-based judicial officer Nigel Hampton.
Hampton said in his findings: “After hearing all the evidence I could not find that when James Horwill’s right foot came into glancing contact with Alun Wyn Jones’ face that he Horwill was acting recklessly.”
Under Regulation 17.22.2 the IRB has the right to appeal disciplinary decisions.
But never has the IRB used that power to set aside a “not guilty” verdict.
Its only previous intervention led to All Blacks forward Adam Thomson having a one-week ban increased to two weeks on appeal from the IRB.
“This is an unprecedented step taken by the IRB in what is the most important event staged in Australia since the 2003 World Cup,” said ARU CEO Bill Pulver.
“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 Hampton 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.
“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.”
In it’s statement the IRB said: “The International Rugby Board has confirmed to the Australian Rugby Union that it will appeal the James Horwill disciplinary decision following an extensive review of the case.
“Australia captain Horwill was cited for a stamping contrary to Law 10.4(b) during the first half of the first Test between Australia and the British & Irish Lions in Brisbane on June 22.
“The judicial officer determined that, on the balance of probabilities, that there was no act of foul play.
“As the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour falls within the scope of the IRB merit-based appointment scheme approved by the IRB Council, under Regulation 17.22.2 the IRB has [since the May 2012 IRB Council decision] 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.
“The IRB received the full written decision on Monday, June 24 and following a detailed review of the evidence and the written decision [as it does for all Tests under its jurisdiction] has notified the ARU within the 72 permissible hours that it will appeal the case.
“The appeal will be heard by Graeme Mew [Canada] following the second Test between Australia and the British & Irish Lions.
“Horwill is free to play pending the outcome of the appeal.
“Further details regarding the appeal hearing logistics will be announced shortly.”