Matera back as Pumas captain but won’t play against Wallabies

AP – Pablo Matera is back as captain of the Argentina rugby team but he and two teammates will not play against Australia this weekend following a disciplinary hearing which reversed an earlier decision to suspend them over offensive tweets posted nearly a decade ago.

It has been that kind of crazy year in 2020.

Earlier this week, Matera was stripped of his captaincy and suspended along with two teammates over historic social media posts which had been deemed “discriminatory and xenophobic”.

The sanctions against Matera were announced after the social media posts emerged amid backlash in Argentina for the low-key way the Pumas responded to the death last week of revered football great Diego Maradona.

Matera became a national hero when he led the Argentina team to its first-ever win over the All Blacks three weeks ago. Now he, veteran lock Guido Petti and hooker Santiago Socino will miss the Australia match in western Sydney.

But in an amazing backflip yesterday, the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR) announced that Matera has been re-instated as captain but won’t face the Wallabies in tomorrow’s final Tri-Nations match in western Sydney.

Players scuffle during the Tri-Nations rugby test between Argentina and the All Blacks in Newcastle, Australia. PHOTO: AP

The Argentine union said the players had expressed remorse at a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday and the ban had been lifted. But the trio won’t play tomorrow, and centre Jeronimo de la Fuente will be the stand-in captain.

“The three players expressed their deep regret, reiterated the apology, ratified that it is not what they think and that it was a reckless act typical of immaturity,” the UAR said in a statement. “However, they are fully responsible… at the time of preliminary issuance, the Disciplinary Committee has considered and assessed the attitude of the three players during this process, and understands that they have not repeated similar actions during these more than eight years, and that they have shown during this time to be people with firm and upright values, worthy of being part of our team.”

The UAR said the commission, amid newspaper reports in Argentina that the players had threatened to strike, would reach a final decision on the sanctions in the next few days.

The Australian Associated Press reported Argentina coach Mario Ledesma as saying the players reached an agreement with the rugby union about not playing tomorrow’s test.

“It was really difficult and not a lot of sleep…a lot of hate going on and they felt really affected and obviously the shame of what they did,” Ledesma was quoted as saying. “Obviously they acknowledge what they did and are regretful and ashamed of what they did. But what I can say is they are not the same people that they were at 17 or 18 years old.”

In relatively staid team news, James O’Connor was recalled at flyhalf after overcoming knee and foot injuries to take his place in the starting lineup for Australia.

To make way for the 30-year-old O’Çonnor’s return at number 10, Reece Hodge will move to fullback and Tom Banks has been relegated to the bench.

“It’s great to have James back in the team this weekend. He brings a lot of experience to a young group and has been working really hard to get his body right to be able to get back on the field,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said.