Rocky Elsom stripped of Australia captaincy

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The Independent Online

Rocky Elsom insisted he harbours no bitterness towards Australia coach Robbie Deans despite being axed as captain three weeks ahead of the World Cup.

Deans today took the shock decision to replace Elsom as skipper with James Horwill when announcing his 30-man squad for the tournament in New Zealand.

While Elsom has been plagued by injury all year and his spot in the starting side has increasingly come under pressure due to the form of Scott Higginbotham, there was no indication his position as captain was in jeopardy, especially after his strong performance against South Africa at the weekend.

A philosophical Elsom claimed, however, he would now knuckle down and focus on playing matters.

The Brumbies blindside flanker said: "It's just the way it goes. I mean it's in the nature of the sport, it's just part and parcel of it.

"I don't know if disappointed is the right term, but I think it is what it is and we've just got to get on with it.

"Kevvy's (Horwill) done a great job for us in the short time he's been back this year, he's been pretty solid the whole season.

"Everyone in the side wants the same thing and we're pushing very hard for that."

Deans admitted he had been agonising over the decision for a while but praised Elsom's reaction to his demotion.

And he is confident the 28-year-old will not dwell on it and will swiftly return to his best without the burden of the captaincy.

"It's part of the brief. You've got to do what you believe is right in the interests of the team," Deans said.

"Obviously it wouldn't have been his preference, but I guess it was made easier by his response.

"It just goes to show where his head is at. It was an impressive response.

"He (Elsom) simply said 'Whatever's in the best interests of the team' and I think you'll see an impressive Rocky Elsom in the next few weeks.

"He can now really concentrate on getting himself in the right shape without having any peripheral demands, because there are a lot of peripheral demands around the captaincy."

Horwill said Elsom was the first person he spoke to when learning of the news and admitted he would base much of his captaincy style on his predecessor.

"He's a very good friend of mine and that conversation between me and him was fantastic," Horwill said.

"I think he is a great leader and someone this team needs as part of this group to move forward and be successful.

"Rocky's a guy that doesn't speak unnecessarily and when he talks the whole group listens."

As expected, there was no place in the squad for utility back Matt Giteau but Deans was adamant he has not fallen out with the veteran playmaker.

"It's nonsense," Deans said of the alleged friction between the two.

"I don't want to get into specific details. It's tough enough for him to swallow without picking over that as well.

"(His attitude) is exceptional. You don't get to play 92 Tests and have that sort of longevity in the game without having a good attitude."

Backrower Matt Hodgson was also overlooked while Deans picked six players with injury worries - Wycliff Palu, James Slipper, Tatafua Polotau-Nau, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes and Drew Mitchell - but the New Zealander is confident all will be fit when the tournament kicks off next month.

The 30-man Wallabies squad will assemble in Brisbane on Sunday ahead of their Tri Nations finale against the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium on August 27.