Tom Curry’s club and England teammates have hit out at the “disgusting abuse” directed at him since he alleged he was racially abused in the World Cup semi-final against South Africa.
Curry suggested to referee Ben O’Keeffe that he was called a “white c—” by Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi.
Mbonambi has yet to comment and will play in the final against New Zealand on Sunday AEDT, with a World Rugby investigation ongoing.
England have had their say in official channels and are leaving the matter to be resolved by World Rugby, while Springboks media tried to head off questions on the matter on Wednesday.
Mbonambi has been staunchly defended by South African fans on social media, who claim that he was using variations of Afrikaans in a strategic form – “wit kant”or “wyd kant”, meaning “white side” or “wide side”. In response, English media have reported that the incident was not captured by the various vidoes being shared by Springbok fans.
A training ground post from a South African reporter on Tuesday showed Mbonambi practising his line out throws with coaches or teammates yelling “watter kant” repeatedly.
The UK Telegraph wrote: “South Africa have appeared to make light of the ongoing row between their hooker Bongi Mbonambi and England’s Tom Curry in training, with video footage from the Springboks’ training session on Tuesday showing players and coaching staff using the Afrikaans phrase “watter kant”.”
“Watter kant” translates as which side.
Curry has been subjected to online threats since he made the allegation.
His club team Sale Sharks issued a statement of support on Wednesday.
“Sale Sharks’ owners, players, coaches and staff are absolutely appalled by the nature and level of disgusting abuse directed at Tom Curry and his family in relation to an incident in the England v South Africa World Cup semi-final,” the statement read.
“Everyone at the club stands fully and proudly behind Tom and we look forward to welcoming him back to Carrington.”
Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief executive, said England had submitted the required statements. The team has King’s Counsel Richard Smith in camp and on retainer and Sweeney said that had been “really helpful”, UK media reported.
Curry was named to play in the third-fourth playoff match despite the drama. It will be his 50th appearance for England.
“His preparation this week has been the ultimate professional, like he is every single day, every week,”said his coach Steve Borthwick.
“This is not a Tom Curry incident. Someone has said something that he has reported and he is getting on and preparing. This is a World Rugby and SA Rugby matter to deal with, not an England Rugby or Tom Curry matter. We’ve said what we want to say on the matter. We’ve got a game on Friday which Tom and all the England squad are looking forward to.”
“I chatted to Tom early in the week, it was around how he is physically because the way Tom plays he has more involvements than any other player on the pitch. Everyone saw when I took him off on Saturday night, he was cut, bloodied. It’s another six-day turnaround.
“He looked straight at me and point blank said ‘I am desperate to play on Friday night’. This is a guy who wants to play. There is no doubt in my mind. The way he has prepared himself has been incredible. That is Tom Curry. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
England captain Owen Farrell also backed Curry.
“Personally speaking, he has been first class like he always is. What isn’t understandable is the amount of abuse he has got, the effect that has had, not just on him. That is the bit I and we really don’t understand. It seems to be going more and more like this but it shouldn’t be,” said Farrell.
“He is one of the most honest and hardworking blokes I have ever played with. In terms of getting support, I hope he knows everyone close to him supports him and back him all the way. I’m sure he does. I hope the people who are close to him know he is being supported really well.
“With Tom himself he wants to get involved in this contest on Friday, it is his 50th cap. It is an unbelievably proud week for him. It’s going to be the same for a couple of others as well. Ben [Youngs] last game as well. So we want to make sure this week is about doing them proud. We want to represent the shirt properly. We want to make sure we make the fans proud again.”
‘It was just emotion’
Willie le Roux has played down his classless act after South Africa broke English hearts in last week’s semi-final.
The Boks back ran from deep to taunt the English players at fulltime of the Boks’ 16-15 win.
He leapt in the air and pointed to the scoreboard then was involved in a scuffle with Owen Farrell.
“It was just emotion. I think I had the same emotion as everyone back home. I was excited,”Le Roux said on Wednesday.
“The margins in those big games are so small, I just jumped up out of emotion, of happiness as we’d just got through a World Cup semi-final.
“There was no disrespect to any of the English players. I think they thought there was and I immediately told them there wasn’t and then it stopped. There was nothing, nothing about that.”
Le Roux’s antics were criticised by fans of both nations, but Farrell shrugged them off afterwards saying it was a “misunderstanding.”
“The emotion for the last two weeks was pretty high. My friends and everyone sends me messages after the games and their heart rate is 200 (bpm). So, the emotion is very high all over the world, and for us as well,” said le Roux.
“But when we step off the field, when you go to bed that night and when you wake up the next morning, it’s the next job, you start all over, it’s a new process. The high has gone now.”
The Boks will name their team on Thursday night AEDT and Le Roux is hoping to get a call up.
“That would be unbelievable. I was six years old in 1995 (the last time the teams faced each other in a Rugby World Cup final) and I can just remember my dad and mum screaming in the house and I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on,” he said.
“But to be able to have a chance to play in the final against them would be amazing.”
‘Lowest point of World Cup’
World Cup winning captain John Smith says the booing of Kiwi referee Ben O’Keeffe during the semi-final between the Springboks and England was the low point of the tournament.
“Referees do a difficult job, they are always under the pump. They always take abuse. Getting booed in the stadium, that is the lowest point of this World Cup, that was horrible,” said Smit, the Boks’ 2007 winning skipper on the Boks Office podcast.
He said the French team should suffer consequences for their comments about O’Keeffe, who also officiated their exit against South Africa.
France skipper Antoine Dupont said O’Keeffe wasn’t “up to the challenge” in that quarter-final.
“Comments like that shouldn’t be allowed to be made without consequences. There has been no consequences hence the crowd think that’s acceptable behaviour,” said Smit.
Wales stars to say farewell
Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny is retiring from international rugby after more than a century of caps for his country.
The 34-year-old Halfpenny’s final game in the Welsh red will be against the Barbarians in Cardiff on November 4.
Halfpenny, who has played 101 games for Wales along with four Tests for the British and Irish Lions, is third on the all-time list of men’s points scorers for his country with 801, behind Neil Jenkins (1,049) and Stephen Jones (917).
He has just appeared in his third Rugby World Cup, having reached 100 caps in a World Cup warmup fixture against England in August.
“There’s no better feeling running out to a full Principality Stadium wearing the Welsh jersey and singing the national anthem,” he said.
“I’m going to miss it, but I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and to every single person who has helped me along the way.”
Former captain Alun Wyn Jones will also play his last game for Wales against the invitational Baa-Baas.