ARU is “surprised and disappointed” that the International Rugby Board intervened overnight to demand the re-hearing of a foul play charge against Qantas Wallabies captain James Horwill from the first Test of the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour.
Horwill was cleared of a stamping allegation – initiated by the British & Irish Lions – at a Judicial Hearing on Sunday night.
Now, in an unprecedented move, the IRB has appealed the outcome and is seeking to overturn the decision of the IRB appointed Judicial Officer, Nigel Hampton QC, from New Zealand.
Mr 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 (Lions lock) 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 Rugby event staged in Australia since the 2003 Rugby 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 Mr 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 Qantas 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.”
The IRB’s appeal of the case will be heard on Monday 1 July at 8:00pm AEST.
The Appeal will be heard by Mr Graeme Mew from Canada via video conference.