England forward Tom Curry accused Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi of serious verbal abuse during the World Cup semi-final – but Springboks fans suggest the England flanker might have misunderstood what was said.
Curry approached referee Ben O’Keeffe in the 23rd minute of South Africa’s one-point win and asked him, “Sir, if their hooker calls me a white c–t, what do I do?”
O’Keeffe said “nothing, please, ” and then added “I’ll be on it.”
There was no evidence of the Curry claim immediately available through the microphones.
Curry was asked about the incident in the mixed zone after the game. He confirmed something was said to him by Mbonambi, but would not go into detail, adding: “It doesn’t need to be talked about.”
After the game Mbonambi slapped away an offered handshake by Curry.
South Africa Rugby released a statement on Sunday.
“We are aware of the allegation, which we take very seriously, and are reviewing the available evidence. We will engage with Bongi if anything is found to substantiate the claim,” an SA Rugby statement read.
Springboks assistant coach Deon Davids and England coach Steve Borthwick were both asked about the incident on Sunday and shut down questions.
“Honestly, I’m not aware of that,” said Davids.
“I’m not aware of any comment, it was never discussed, so I’m just not quite sure what the comment was or where it was said, so I don’t know.”
Borthwick said: “I am not going to comment on anything regarding that incident.”
Springbok fans took to social media to defend Mbonambi and give an alternative explanation for what he might have said to Curry.
Fans said it would make sense that Mbonambi used the Afrikaans phrase ‘wit kant’ – which translates to ‘the white side’ in directing his teammates.
World Rugby confirmed there is a 36-hour window from when the game ends for England to lodge a complaint to the citing officer, giving them until 8pm (AEDT) on Monday to act.
The sport’s global governing body can also choose to pursue the matter with any case likely to be brought under the ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ banner.
Also, if the citing officer finds any evidence of the alleged racist remark he can trigger disciplinary proceedings against Mbonambi with an offence such as this likely to contravene law 9.12 – a player must not verbally abuse anyone.
Mbonambi is the only out-and-out hooker in their squad. Deon Fourie has been providing cover for Mbonambi, while back row Marco van Staden has played in the hooker position.
English players were meanwhile upset at some of the Springboks’ reactions after the match.
England skipper Owen Farrell had a heated exchange with Willie le Roux who celebrated in front of the devastated losers.
Borthwick played that down as well.
“They will handle themselves as they decide to. I believe the England rugby team can have such a positive effect on people. It had a huge impact upon me, I have seen it have an impact on a whole host of people and communities.
“I’ll talk to players about that almost on a daily basis. I want them to have a positive impact everywhere they go. I think I am proud of the way the team has played. I am proud of the way they train and I am also really proud of the way they conduct themselves, that is what we will continue to do.”