BY THE time you read this, the Australian rugby union captain James Horwill will probably have found out whether he’s to be allowed to play in the deciding Test of the Lions series on Saturday.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) poked its nose into the disciplinary process last week when the Wallabies’ skipper was cleared of stamping on Alun Wyn Jones in the first match in Brisbane, thus allowing him to play a truly heroic part in his team’s deserved victory in Melbourne.
It is hard to remember seeing a player so spent of all physical and mental reserves on the final whistle. The image of Horwill, down on his haunches, barely able to summon the energy to celebrate the victory, is the perfect example to set of what giving your all really means.
Except he shouldn’t have been able to play such a key role. I have yet to talk to anyone who doesn’t think Horwill should have been banned from the rest of the series – a boot on someone’s face is the biggest no- no in the sport – and the outcome of the first hearing was all too reminiscent of the shameful clearing of Tana Umaga for his spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll on the 2005 Lions tour.
A “homer” as a referee in the heat of battle is one thing, but in a cold light of day disciplinary process quite another. It is to be hoped that the IRB’s intervention has effectively held a gun to the head of the second judicial panel, making it clear how disappointed they would be if Horwill was allowed to play in the finale.
The force is with the Wallabies now, and they looked the only side capable of scoring a try from open play last weekend. But I can’t get the image of Horwill out of my head: broken but triumphant, probably knowing in the back of his mind that the guillotine was awaiting 48 hours later. He must surely be in the stands in Sydney as Leigh Halfpenny lines up a 40m kick to win the series with a minute remaining. Because whether it goes over or not, there are more important things in rugby than the result. And not kicking people in the head is top of that list.