Wellington - The axing of Samoa's rugby captain Mahonri Schwalger has prompted anger in the Pacific Island nation, with the largest daily newspaper calling him "the people's captain" and describing his ousting as "a comedy of errors and a sad tragedy."
The Samoa Observer said coach Stephan Betham had made a mistake in dropping World Cup captain Schwalger from the squad for next month's Pacific Nations Cup.
Betham had said that Schwalger was replaced because of "the age factor", as 31-year-old Schwalger was unlikely to be in Samoa's 2015 World Cup team so it was time to introduce younger talent.
Schwalger has been a standout player for the Chiefs in this season's Super Rugby championship and he had said his axing was not because of his age but because he had criticised Samoa Rugby Union officials after last year's World Cup.
He had said the social activities of officials at the World Cup had disrupted the team's preparation for key matches and claimed team clothing and equipment had been sold for personal profit.
Schwalger said "I knew it would cost me my international career" but "if it means that the (Samoa) will go forward without me then that's a sacrifice I will take."
The Samoa Observer said Betham had offered only "veiled excuses" for omitting a player "playing the best rugby of his life."
"Perhaps someone should remind the folks at SRU that the people of this country are not stupid and that they should stop pulling these PR disasters," the Samoa Observer said. "It's an embarrassment for this country.
"The Manu Samoa (team), after all, is not owned by the folks running the Samoa Rugby Union. This is a team that's owned by the people of this country - the very people who gave their lunch money so that the team could attend the Rugby World Cup last year.
"Today it's fair to say there is hardly a soul out there that's not hurt and deeply offended by the decision."
The Samoa Observer said other World Cup players dropped from the squad - Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Seilala Mapusua, George Stowers and Alesana Tuilagi - had all supported Schwalger.
"Somebody within the SRU should explain," the newspaper said. "While we wait, the SRU should also take a leaf from Schwalger's book in terms of class, dignity and poise."