Horwill relief at third Test green light
Australia captain James Horwill watched the Tour de France during a sleepless night spent agonising over whether he would be permitted to lead the Wallabies in Saturday's series decider against the British and Irish Lions.
Horwill felt "vindicated" when the International Rugby Board's appeal against a disciplinary hearing's decision to clear him of foul play for stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones in the first Test was not upheld. Independent appeal officer Graeme Mew found that only a major error during the original hearing would warrant the judgement being overturned.
With the series tied 1-1, Horwill's availability has lifted Australian spirits at a time when the Lions are mourning the loss of their captain Sam Warburton to a hamstring injury. "I tossed and turned during the night. I watched the Tour de France, which had a good finish, then a bit of other TV. I tried to sleep but it was difficult," Horwill said.
"Maybe I got one or two hours sleep. It's ok though - it's Tuesday, we have four days and I know I'll be sleeping well.
"It was difficult, you want clarity either way and the unknown was the worst part. I felt for the team too. We need to be able to prepare for this game and to do that properly we needed clarity. We can now get on with it.
"You just have to trust the process, trust that the right outcome would come in the end and that's what we did. The IRB were entitled to take the process they did, but I believe the right decision has been made. I know what happened, it was completely accidental and there was never any malice at all."
The availability of Horwill - a player viewed as Australia's emotional heartbeat - continues a seismic shift in fortunes that threatens the Lions' hopes of a first series triumph for 16 years. Fresh from their 16-15 victory in the second Test that has set-up the Sydney decider, the Wallabies will be able to field their skipper while the tourists must replace theirs.
Warburton was outstanding at the Etihad Stadium, but his torn left hamstring means either Sean O'Brien or Justin Tipuric will start at openside with Brian O'Driscoll the likely captain.
"I feel disappointed for Sam. It's never nice for any player to get injured, not least ahead of such a game as this. It's something you wouldn't wish on any player," Horwill said.
"But I've said all along that these two teams are very evenly matched. It's been two points, then one point and a kick at the death in both games that could have swung it the other way. Nobody has known the result until the 81st minute."