MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia captain James Horwill maintains his alleged stamping of British and Irish Lions lock Alun-Wyn Jones last weekend was accidental, and he won’t think about the International Rugby Board’s rare decision to appeal his exoneration on those charges until after the second test on Saturday.
The Australian Rugby Union said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the IRB decision essentially to appeal one of its own judgments, make Horwill face the charges again and potentially put him at risk of missing the third and last test against the Lions.
Horwill said Friday he was “confident of what happened on the field” and would leave the matter to lawyers until Sunday so he can focus on trying to level the series for Australia.
“I got a very fair hearing the first time and I expect it to be no different come the second time,” he said. “I don’t know too much about it, I’ve been focused on the game and once the game is finished I will have a better look at it.”
The original hearing, he said, ” was four hours and we had nine different camera angles to look at so it was very thorough and in that case the hearing went through its due process via an IRB-appointed judicial officer.”
Jones needed stitches to a head wound after the Lions won the first test 23-21 and Horwill was subsequently cited. New Zealand-based IRB judicial officer Nigel Hampton determined that there was no act of foul play. But the finding caused outrage among fans in Britain, and the Dublin-based IRB said it wanted to “further examine potential acts of foul play which either potentially or in reality impact on the preservation of player welfare.”
Horwill said the one TV angle shown on replays wasn’t a full reflection of the incident, when he claimed to have lost balance before making contact with Jones’ head with his right boot.
“You can slow anything down to make it look different but if you look at the other angles you can see what happened,” Horwill said. “I’ve played more than 130 professional rugby games and never been cited once and never been to any judicial hearings.
“It was a complete accident. Unfortunately accidents happen in rugby — it’s a contact sport. There was no intent or malice.”
Horwill said he didn’t know anything about the contact with Jones until the Lions initiated the citing.
“Even when I was cited I didn’t know what it was for,” he said. “It was a completely accidental act and there was no intent and no malice and I had completely no idea that Alun was by my feet.”
Hampton said in his decision that “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.”
The ARU says the IRB has never used its power to set aside a not guilty verdict. It says the IRB’s 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 rugby event staged in Australia since the 2003 Rugby World Cup,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said in a statement. “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.
“We are surprised and disappointed that the finding of Mr. Hampton is now not only under question but deemed to be erroneous.”
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans told an earlier news conference that he’d participated in the hearing for Horwill and, while he wasn’t allowed to publicly discuss the process, he was satisfied with the original outcome.
The Lions are hoping to secure their first series victory since 1997 with a win in Melbourne on Saturday.