Horwill cleared to lead Australia in crucial third test
Captain 'feels vindicated' to have IRB appeal rejected over stamping incident against Lions
Reuters in Sydney
A mightily relieved Australia captain James Horwill will be available for this Saturday's third test against the British & Irish Lions after being cleared of stamping for a second time in a fortnight.
Horwill was cited for stamping on the head of Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones in the first test in Brisbane but exonerated by New Zealand judicial officer Nigel Hampton on June 23, only for the International Rugby Board (IRB) to appeal.
Lock Horwill said he endured a sleepless night while he waited for the verdict and thanked the Australian public for what he described as their overwhelming support throughout the process.
"Very relieved, very relieved," he said yesterday. "I feel very vindicated ... I know what happened and I'm glad that the right result was come to in the end.
"I love what I do and it means a lot to me to represent my country and the opportunity to lead it in what is arguably the biggest game in this country since the World Cup final in 2003 is very exciting."
Appeals officer Graeme Mew, who is based in Canada, delivered his decision following a lengthy hearing and said the appeal would have been upheld only if the IRB had established a clear mistake on Hampton's part.
"There was sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable judicial officer could have reached the decision that was made," Mew said. "Accordingly, it could not be said that the judicial officer was manifestly wrong or that the interests of justice otherwise required his decision be overturned."
The decision to relitigate the issue provoked outrage in Australia, with the Australian Rugby Union saying it was surprised and disappointed at the appeal.
"I probably wouldn't want to see another player go through that," Horwill said. "But it was incredibly thorough, fair and just."
The test series is tied 1-1 going into the final match at Sydney's Olympic Stadium after the Lions won the first test 23-21 in Brisbane and the Wallabies the second 16-15 in Melbourne.
Australia are not blessed with great depth in the second row and coach Robbie Deans said he was delighted to have the "spiritual leader of the group" back.
"Certainly in the group's perspective, they'll be stoked to have James back," the New Zealander said. "He's right at the heart of what we do.
"He's a very forthright man, he's a man of high integrity, his ethics are good, his teammates respect him for all that. His work ethic in games is huge.
"He'll play himself until he can't play any more. And from a players' perspective that's what you want alongside you and that's what they've got. And when his legs are gone, he'll still be talking."
Lions' tour manager Andy Irvine said the visitors had moved on from the incident.
"You can't slap his wrist - he's either found guilty or he's innocent. If you asked 100 people [about it], you would probably get a 50-50 or a 60-40 split," Irvine said.
"It's not one of those where you're going to get a 95-5 decision, it was always going to be marginal.
"But, as I say, it's history now, it's water under the bridge. There is nothing we can do about it, so let's move on."