Six Pumas players withdrawn from selection after border breach

Australia's Rugby Championship clash against Argentina will proceed as planned, despite news that six Pumas players are stuck at the Queensland border after they attended a health retreat in Byron Bay in northern NSW.

Six Argentina players and two staff travelled to the popular seaside town on Wednesday but did not have the correct documentation -- basically reserved for essential workers or compassionate reasons -- to re-enter Queensland on their return.

Sebastián Cancelliere, Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, Pablo Matera, Santiago Medrano and Santiago Socino will now not be available for selection to face the Wallabies on the Gold Coast, and they will instead remain in NSW alongside management staff Lucas Chioccarelli and Rodrigo Martínez until they fly out of Australia on Sunday.

All four Rugby Championship teams had earlier this week been informed they were to remain in their hotel rooms apart from training purposes.

"Following consultation with the Queensland Government, SANZAAR is aware that several members of the Argentinean rugby team were stopped at the Queensland border after a visit to Byron Bay in New South Wales on Wednesday 29 September," a SANZAAR statement read.

"This travel across the state border is a direct breach of the present Queensland Government health orders and SANZAAR's Rugby Championship tournament biosecurity plan. SANZAAR has informed Argentina Rugby that all members of this group are now ineligible to participate further in The Rugby Championship as they have breached tournament rules.

"These team members, comprising six players and two team management staff, crossed the border on their scheduled day off without the permission of the tournament and without seeking clarity on their ability to re-enter Queensland under the existing COVID border restrictions.

"The group will now stay in New South Wales and will not be available for the round six match against Australia on the Gold Coast on Saturday. They will rejoin the rest of the touring squad on Sunday to fly back to Argentina. The Australia versus Argentina match to be played at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday 2 October will proceed.

"The Argentinean playing squad comprises 44 players and the team will announce the matchday squad for the match later today. SANZAAR is very disappointed that such a breach has occurred given the clear rules that are in place to ensure the health and safety of all players and staff, and compliance with all relevant health orders.

"SANZAAR would like to thank the Queensland Government for their continued support and leadership in facilitating the Rugby Championship in the State over the last four consecutive weeks."

The Argentina Rugby Union [UAR] says it is conducting an investigation into why the group was allowed leave the rest of the squad.

"The UAR wishes to inform that a group of six players and two staff members of Los Pumas, who are in Australia participating in the Rugby Championship competition, are temporarily in the state of New South Wales, after going on a trip during their free day," a UAR statement read. "Therefore, due to the COVID-19 sanitary restrictions, they are for the time being not allowed to return to Queensland.

"The eight team members are Sebastián Cancelliere, Lucas Chioccarelli (manager), Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, Pablo Matera, Rodrigo Martínez (video analyst), Santiago Medrano and Santiago Socino. They are all in perfect good health, lodged at a hotel in the area, waiting for their current condition to be solved. For now, their only limitation is the temporary impossibility to go through the state jurisdiction and return to Queensland to meet the rest of the team members.

"For the UAR, bringing a solution to this issue has become a top priority. Therefore, the Union is making its best efforts at the institutional level to provide assistance so as to facilitate the players' and staff members' return as soon as possible. At the same time, an internal process has been put into place in order to clarify and to determine responsibility for what has happened."

"Last but not least, the UAR clarifies that, by virtue of this situation, the squad members involved shall not be able to participate in the coming match, scheduled for next Saturday, October 2nd."

The incident is another mark against the reputation of former Pumas skipper Pablo Matera after he was stripped of the captaincy and stood down from Argentina's final Tri Nations game against the Wallabies last year when racist social media posts resurfaced. While Matera was later reinstated as team captain, Julian Montoya has skippered the team in 2021.

Matera is due to join the Crusaders for Super Rugby Pacific next season.

The NSW-Queensland border remains closed as the Queensland Government tries to keep the Delta COVID-19 variant out of the state. There have however been cases in the community this week, casting doubt on both the NRL Grand Final in Brisbane and the Rugby Championship double-header on the Gold Coast.

The situation continues a dramatic week for the Pumas after SANZAAR and Rugby Australia officials apologised for an "error" that had seen a photo take place in Townsville featuring the captains of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but without Argentina's Julian Montoya.

Coach Mario Ledesma had slammed the photo shoot after his side's loss to the Wallabies 24 hours later, saying his players had been disrespected.

Both SANZAAR and RA officials said the photo of Michael Hooper, Ardie Savea and Siya Kolisi together was never supposed to take place, putting it down to an communication error.