By Alan Dymock
All you have to do is mention his name and the globe starts spinning particularly fast. An ambiguous campaign with the slogan “Justice for Horwill” helps little, too, as Wallaby fans demand that justice is served by upholding Horwill’s right to play the third Lions Test, while most in Britain and Ireland would see Justice as a few weeks off from all rugby duty for the Australian captain.
It is hard to keep track of proceedings, but one inscrutable fact is that Horwill will play against the Lions in Sydney this Saturday. The IRB had appealed against a citing commission’s ruling that Horwill had not intentionally “stamped” on an opponents head after he was cited for making contact with Alun Wyn Jones’s head with his boot in the first Test. However, after a long, drawn out hearing it was concluded that the appeal would be overturned and Horwill could continue with the campaign.
With the Test series on a knife-edge – the Lions winning the first Test by a mere two-point margin and losing by a point in the second – the continued participation of Australia’s captain will be a fillip for a side keen to banish the Lions in the same fashion as 2001 when the Wallabies overcame an opening Test loss to win 2-1.
The Lions, on the other hand, will be without captain Sam Warburton after the openside suffered a “significant tear” on Saturday.
Although some may not see this as a series-threatening blow due to the continued involvement of former Lions skipper Brian O’Driscoll, the bookies favourite to fill in as captain for the decider, the loss of Warburton will certainly mean changes in tactics and outlook for the visitors.
The breakdown-smashing duo of Dan Lydiate and Warburton will be halved, and with it assumed that Justin Tipuric will come in as the openside for the last outing, it must be asked whether balance would be best served with Lydiate continuing, particularly as the Lions failed to threaten Australia’s try-line at the weekend.
The options are there for Warren Gatland and his coaches, with Sean O’Brien continuing to menace with ball in hand. He can play anywhere across the back-row and there is another galloping option in Tom Croft. Throw trundling Toby Faletau into the equation and suddenly Gatland has a selection headache at a time when he needs everything to fall into place.
In the last few days luck has favoured the Wallabies, a keen contrast to the first Test when everything that could go wrong for the hosts did, as creative backs injured themselves on Lions’ shoulders and ground gave underneath them.
At times like this the true test is whether the Lions team can band together. The legal decisions have been made and the injuries confirmed, but a series is still up for grabs. Every team meeting from here on in will feel like a Van de Graaff generator collectors club, with hairs standing on end for the duration.
With all the pomp and pageantry over, this is the week where the Lions truly prove whether they are special or not. Win against the odds and it is gorgeous proof that the Lions works as an entity, with four nations smashing into one and winning as one. Lose and it could be a bleak glance towards New Zealand in four years.
The Lions have their own trial coming up and there only remains 80 minutes within which they must dole out their own brand of justice.