The shock over Rocky Elsom losing the Wallabies captaincy was not so much his dumping but its timing just weeks out from the World Cup, Australian newspapers said on Friday.
Elsom's replacement as skipper by James Horwill was the bombshell from Thursday's announcement of Australia's 30-man squad for the tournament starting next month.
Lock Horwill becomes Australia's 77th Test captain on the back of leading the Reds to this year's Super Rugby competition.
There was no great surprise among rugby pundits that Elsom had lost the captaincy ahead of Australia's World Cup opener against Italy in Auckland on September 11.
"The shock of Elsom's removal is not that it happened. It's that it happened now, not two months ago, not two months hence," The Australian's Wayne Smith said.
"It always had the feel of folly when coach Robbie Deans and ARU chief executive John O'Neill confirmed that, injury aside, Elsom would captain the Wallabies at the World Cup.
"It was a risky and even reckless business, trying to force certainty on to a situation that was anything but certain, with Elsom having managed to play only 80 minutes of football in the entire Super Rugby season."
The Sydney Morning Herald said the decision "also takes the handcuffs off the Test selectors, who are no longer obliged to pick Elsom at No.6", and could now start in-form Scott Higginbotham instead at blindside flanker.
Wallaby great Tim Horan said Elsom had been given a "hospital pass" and set up for a fall.
"I agree with the decision to make Horwill captain, but I don't understand the timing of the announcement," Horan wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
"I hope Deans has admitted he made a mistake and apologised to Elsom, because this has been quite a hospital pass. Giving him the captaincy when he had played just 60 minutes of rugby all year was setting him up for a fall."
Most commentators agreed with the choice of Horwill as Australia's World Cup skipper.
"Horwill will be a considerably different captain to Elsom, who is more the individual, sometimes a loner, while Horwill is an old-fashioned skipper, who genuinely appears to enjoy the role," The Herald's Greg Growden said.
"Horwill is given to impassioned speeches and doesn't seem to get too rattled by the endless public relations duties that are part of being a professional captain."
The Australian said Horwill was the natural heir to Elsom.
"Horwill looked as though the mantle of captaincy had been tailored to him. It felt as though a destiny had been realised.
"In a sense, Elsom is now back where he belongs, among the rank and file."
Horan noted that Deans had gone for 17 forwards and 13 backs in his World Cup squad, and would likely use five forwards and two backs on the replacements' bench.
"Still, I would have liked to see Matt Giteau in the squad for (third scrumhalf) Nick Phipps as he is a better player and provides broader cover," he said.
The 92-capped Giteau, once the golden boy of Australian rugby, was omitted from the squad entirely to add to the shock of Elsom's replacement as captain.
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