Rugby: Argentina captain Pablo Matera sacked for Tri Nations 'decider' against Australia

Argentina rugby hero Pablo Matera has lost his captaincy and likely been suspended from the Tri Nations 'decider' against Australia on Saturday.

The world-class flanker - along with teammates Guido Petti and Santiago Socino - have been stood down from the national team, after they were discovered to have posted "discriminatory and xenophobic comments" on social media between 2011-13.

Matera, 27, has cancelled his Twitter account and apologised on his private Instagram account for the racist references.

"I had a tougher time," he says. "I am very ashamed.

"Apologies to all those who were offended by the atrocities I wrote. At that moment, I did not imagine who I was going to become.

"Today I have to take charge of what I said nine years ago."

The Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) has strongly dissociated itself from Matera's comments and called for Pumas staff to nominate a new captain.

All three players will be suspended, while their disciplinary process is carried out.

"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 we consider it unacceptable that those who express them represent our country," says the UAR statement, translated into English.

While New Zealand currently top the Tri Nations table, either Argentina or Australia could - mathematically - still snatch the trophy from their grasp, but they would need an almost impossibly massive win in the competition finale to achieve that.

Under Matera's leadership, the Pumas have been the surprise packet of the tournament. With no domestic rugby during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of their players and staff tested positive for the coronavirus before leaving home.

After arriving in Australia, they spent two weeks in quarantine and were expected to be under-prepared for matches against the All Blacks and Wallabies. Despite all that, they ambushed the NZ side for their first-ever win and then held Australia to a draw seven days later.

Matera was a hero of the opening victory, demanding the All Blacks show his side respect in the heat of battle. 

After the draw against Australia, he captured hearts by giving his jersey to a tearful young fan, but was also guilty of pulling the hair of Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa during a heated second-half exchange.