The Wallabies appear to have dodged a bullet after captain James Horwill was cleared following an incident in the first Test loss to the British and Irish Lions on Saturday. He was cited after allegedly stamping Alun-Wyn Jones.
[updated] The Wallabies are already in a bad place injury wise, and it looked as though Horwill, who had only just returned to Test rugby after a lengthy injury layoff, would be out of the rest of the series after having been cited for a stamp.
Debutant centre Christian Leali’ifano left the field on a stretcher within the first minute of the game, and later both Berrick Barnes (jaw) and Pat McCabe (neck) suffered a similar fate, while Adam Ashley-Cooper appeared to have injured his shoulder.
Horwill will be availble for the second Test however, as he has been cleared of stamping following a lengthy disciplinary hearing in Melbourne earlier today.
Judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC found that on the balance of probabilities, the Horwill could not be found guilty of an intentional or deliberate action of stamping or trampling under law 10.4(b).
“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 was acting recklessly,” Hampton said.
Horwill appeared to stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones in the third minute, with video evidence showing that his boot grazed the side of the lock’s face, who had to get stiches after the game.
“I found that I could not reject as being implausible or improbable Horwill’s explanation that, as he was driving forward with his right leg raised, he was spun off balance through the impact of Lions players entering the ruck from the opposite side,” Hampton continued.
“In an endeavour to regain his balance, Horwill brought his right leg to the ground unknowing that Alun-Wyn Jones’ head was in that area, due to having his sight impeded by the presence of Michael Hooper and Tom Croft who were beneath him and over the top of Alun-Wyn Jones.
“Due to these reasons, I cannot uphold the citing.”
The decision will no doubt anger Lions management, as well as fans, who may feel that there is a bit of history with host teams getting off lightly with incidents during Lions tours.
“I played in the days of rucking and I’ve still got some scars from some good ruckings,” said Warren Gatland. “The head to me was sacrosanct… you stay away from that.”
UPDATE 27-06-13 – The IRB will appeal the decision
Horwill is free to play pending the outcome, which means his selection for the second Test stands. If anything, he’ll likely miss the third and some of the Rugby Championship.
Warren Gatland on the James Horwill stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones