It's been a mystery that's had tongues wagging throughout Wanganui's rugby community - why was Sam Madams, Wanganui's player of the year, dropped from the New Zealand Heartland XV side to play New Zealand Marist?

Earlier this week, the Wanganui Chronicle reported that the star was in the dark about his shock axing and had no idea what led to it.

The story hinted that words exchanged between Madams and Heartland coach Barry Matthews could have been behind the decision by the New Zealand Rugby Union to withdraw the player ahead of the season-ending match last Saturday for which he had already been named.

Matthews is also the coach of South Canterbury, which was trounced on October 25 by Wanganui - largely due to the skill of Madams in the scrum.


None of the parties involved were forthcoming about the reason for the axing.

Not Madams, not New Zealand Heartland XV coach Barry Matthews, not Wanganui Rugby Union and not the New Zealand Rugby Union have been prepared to provide an on-the-record explanation.

The NZRU released this bland statement: "Sam Madams was removed from the New Zealand Heartland XV squad following discussion with Head Coach Barry Matthews, prior to the squad's assembly.

"He was replaced by Everard Reid - one of two replacement players for the squad. There is nothing further to add."

The lack of detail led to immediate speculation about what extraordinary transgression Madams might have committed to warrant being dropped from the team and what that discussion had been about.

We spoke to all parties involved in this situation. No one wanted to be quoted. But everyone told the same story.

It is believed that after the Meads Cup semi-final on October 21 Madams and some other players vigorously sledged the South Canterbury players as "chokers".

The New Zealand Heartland XV contains a number of players from both provinces and Matthews wanted to clear the air with them before they came together as one team while representing New Zealand.

Madams allegedly refused to take part in the air-clearing. Consequently, he was removed from the team.

Madams enjoyed a terrific season at lock for Wanganui in the Heartland Championship and was a big part of the team's success, which led to him being named player of the year.

But this was a tricky and sensitive situation. Nothing illegal was committed. There were no scandals. Just strong feelings all round and team harmony at stake.

And last weekend in Timaru, Heartland narrowly beat Marist 41 - 39, coming from behind.