Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at the Pumas social media fallout, the return of James O’Connor and the women’s World Cup expands in 2025.
Argentina’s preparation for Saturday’s clash with the Wallabies has been thrown into chaos as Pablo Matera has been sacked as captain after ‘discriminatory and xenophobic’ tweets emerged earlier today.
Matera, along with two other senior players Guido Petti and Santiago Socino, has been stood down after tweets from 2011-2013 were made aware to Argentine Rugby Union.
“The Argentine Rugby Union strongly repudiates the discriminatory and xenophobic comments published by members of the Los Pumas team on social networks and meeting urgently, the Board of Directors resolves: First, revoke Pablo Matera’s captaincy and request the staff to propose a new captain to the Board of Directors,” they said in a statement.
“Second, suspend Pablo Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino from the national team until their disciplinary situation is defined.
“Third, initiate a disciplinary process for the three mentioned players, in charge of the disciplinary commission of the Argentine Rugby Union.
“Although the messages were expressed between 2011 and 2013 and do not represent the integrity as people that the three showed during this time in Los Pumas, from the Argentine Rugby Union we condemn any expression of hatred and consider it unacceptable.”
Whilst I won’t post them here, if you look hard enough you can find the tweets and probably understand why I’ve opted against it.
Matera has since taken the tweet down and suspended his account, issuing an apology via Instagram.
“I had a tougher time. I am very ashamed. Apologies to all those who were offended by the atrocities I wrote,” he said.
“At that moment I did not imagine who I was going to become.
“Today I have to take charge of what I said 9 years ago.
“I’m also sorry to my team and my family for the moment they are going through my actions and thanks to the people who love me for their support.”
It had been suggested that the tweets had been resurfaced by angry Argentinean after a supposed ‘lack of respect’ shown after Maradona’s death.
The Wallabies are treating the Pumas game as a grand final of sorts, with Dave Rennie expected to name a strong side for Saturday’s clash.
The main talking point that will likely come out of Thursday’s team selection will be the return of James O’Connor, who has confirmed his fitness for the final test of the year.
“First things first, I’ll be fit this week. I’ve got to get through selection but we’ve got there in the end,” O’Connor told reporters on Monday.
“Being an older player now, you put a lot of work into your body off the field and you just want to do the little things right.
“I came into this campaign and I was given a lot of responsibility and I was very happy with how my game was moving forward and my game was progressing and how we were growing as a team.
“To be cut short and forced to watch from the sidelines, it was very tough.”
With the double P’s cementing their connection in the centres, there are questions surrounding what happens to stand-in flyhalf Reece Hodge with O’Connor’s return imminent.
Whilst he praised his Reds teammates, O’Connor conceded that Hodge had done enough to earn his spot somewhere in the backline for Saturday’s clash.
“I think he’s definitely earned his spot and [should] stay there [in the starting XV],” O’Connor said.
“I’m not a selector so I won’t be pretending where I would put him but I have my ideas and we will see where that plays off. He definitely deserves to be out on the field somewhere.
“In saying that, we still have some really damaging centres that have been doing a really good job for us and the back three as well.
“I’m happy I don’t have to make that decision.”
Guard still up
With the Pumas in chaos after the ghosts of Twitter’s past reared their heads, the Wallabies are refusing to let their guard down.
Argentina will be without captain Pablo Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino for the clash on Saturday after they were stood down on Tuesday.
The news caught the Wallabies off-guard when asked about it on Tuesday (the press conference was basically at the same time as the Pumas statement).
However, adversity is not something new to the Pumas, with prop Allan Alaalatoa expecting them to rally in Matera’s absence.
“That’s the first time we’ve heard about it but just thinking about it now, I’m sure those boys will come out and try to do their country proud this weekend,” Alaalatoa told the media.
“Pablo being their captain is going to be a huge loss for them, (but) I’m sure all three of those boys will still play a vital role in their preparations.
“They’ll use that as more of a motivation. Thinking from our perspective, that’s probably the way we’d go about it…use that as motivation.”
With the Tri-Nations essentially out of reach, Alaalatoa is refusing to consider the game as a ‘dead-rubber’, believing that they have 25+ million reasons to put in a good performance.
“Every time you get the opportunity to wear the Wallabies jersey, it’s always an honour,” he added.
“We’ve been playing well so far, but we just haven’t been able to get the result.
“That’s our driving force heading into the weekend, making sure that we prepare really well, and making sure we put in a performance that we’re proud of, that our country’s proud of and that are family and friends are proud of.
“To finish on a high is huge for us and to go off to a break off the back of a good result.”
World Cup expansion
The 2025 Women’s World Cup has received a major boost with the number of teams increasing from 12 to 16.
The landmark decision falls in line with the commitment that World Rugby has put into growing and accelerating the development of the women’s game through its women’s strategic plan for 2017-2025.
“In 2017 we set out an ambitious eight-year plan to accelerate the development of women in rugby…and an ambition to improve and expand the number of teams competing in pinnacle events,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement.
“We have seen in recent years that more teams are making a statement at international level and unions are continuing to develop their women’s high-performance programmes.
“Expansion of the Rugby World Cup opens additional…playing pathway opportunities for unions at the highest level of the game and creates added incentive for unions worldwide to continue to invest and grow in their women’s programmes.”
The Wallaroos are already in Canberra as they start their preparations for the 2021 tournament, set to train at the AIS.
Their squad contains 16 debutants as Dwayne Nestor looks to build chemistry and connections in a squad that has been unable to physically meet as a group in 2020.
Full training squad: Iliseva Batibasaga (NSW), Emily Chancellor (NSW), Georgia Cormick (Rebels), Lori Cramer (Reds), Piper Duck (NSW), Georgina Freidrichs (NSW), Anita Faimasui-Brown (NSW), Aleena Greenhalgh*, (Reds), Grace Hamilton (c & NSW), Ariana Hira-Herangi (WA), Eva Karpani (NSW), Grace Kemp (ACT), Atasi Lafai (NSW), Michaela Leonard (ACT), Ashlee Makim (NSW), Nareta Marsters (Reds), Arabella McKenzie (NSW), Averyl Mitchell (Reds), Lillyann Mason (NSW), Jemima McCalman (NSW), Tiarah Minns (Rebels), Layne Morgan (NSW), Gabby Peterson (ACT), Pauline Pilae*, (NSW), Trilleen Pomare (WA), Hilisha Samoa (Reds), Oneata Schwalger (NSW), Christina Sekona (Reds), Cecilia Smith (Reds), Tayla Stanford (ACT), Maya Stewart (NSW), Ashleigh Walker (Rebels)