IRB appeals against decision to clear Horwill
Australia's preparations for the second test against the British and Irish Lions have been thrown into turmoil after the International Rugby Board intervened to order a re-hearing of a stamping charge against Wallabies captain James Horwill.
Horwill was cleared on Sunday night of the allegation that he deliberately stamped on the head of Lions second rower Alun Wyn Jones in the third minute of the first test in Brisbane last week.
The IRB has appealed the outcome and is seeking to overturn the decision of its own judicial officer, Nigel Hampton QC.
The re-hearing will be staged after the second test in Melbourne on Saturday, meaning Horwill is free to play and will be until the outcome of the appeal is known.
Canadian judicial officer Graeme Mew will preside over the process. It is an unwelcome distraction for the Wallabies, their captain and coach Robbie Deans in the lead-up to the must-win second test.
"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 boss Bill Pulver said.
"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 Mr Hampton is now not only under question but deemed to be 'erroneous'."
Under Regulation 17.22.2 the IRB has the right to appeal disciplinary decisions but it has never used the 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 last November.
A statement form the IRB said it was important the board ensured there was "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 statement said.
Pulver criticised the timing of the decision. "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," Pulver said.
"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."
Sydney Morning Herald