World Rugby has opened an investigation into the alleged racist slur directed at England flanker Tom Curry by South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final but the Boks star will be clear to play the final.
The global governing body said on Monday it was formally looking into the claim, which — if proven — threatens Mbonambi’s participation in the final against New Zealand on Saturday.
A World Rugby source told The Roar that there was no way Mbonambi would miss the final, given the complexities of the situation, which they are taking seriously.
Curry claimed to referee Ben O’Keeffe in the second quarter of the Stade de France clash – which the Springboks won 16-15 – that he had been called a “white c—” by Mbonambi.
“World Rugby takes all allegations of discriminatory behaviour extremely seriously,” a statement read.
“We can confirm that we are formally reviewing the allegation made by England’s Tom Curry in relation to the use of discriminatory language during the England versus South Africa Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-final on Saturday.
“World Rugby will not be making further comment until the conclusion of the process.”
South Africa said on Sunday they 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,” SA Rugby said.
When asked after the match if Mbonambi had said something, Curry replied “yeah” but declined to reveal the content of the remark.
Mbonambi took over as captain once Siya Kolisi was replaced early in the second half against England. Having lost their other top hooker Malcolm Marx to injury during the tournament, the Boks replaced him with Handre Pollard.
Springboks scrum coach Daan Human and teammate Jean Kleyn defended Mbonambi on Tuesday.
“It is being dealt with by World Rugby and SA Rugby at the moment so from my side, I can’t really comment on that,” said Human.
“He had a perfect training this afternoon, had a good training and he is participating in training sessions.
“Bongi has been part of this group for six years, he started in the last World Cup and he started in the semi-final so he is very important, like all the other players in our group.
“He is one of the leaders in our group and a great, great guy. I know his kids. My kids always look after his kids when they come to the hotel. He is a very humble guy, very down to earth like the other players and they should be if they want to play for the Springboks.
“He is definitely a guy I would love to have in my team. He is a calm guy, a very calm guy, well-spoken.
“I actually don’t want to go into it, we have got a World Cup final in six days. I am more concentrating on the forwards. I can’t comment, I wasn’t on the field.”
Human said the Springboks were happy with their cover at hooker. Backrowers Deon Fourie and Marco van Staden are also capable of playing there.
“We have three hookers in the group, three guys who are comfortable with playing hooker,” said Human.
“If you go into a final you must have two hookers.”
Kleyn said “Bongi is a great guy. I have known him since we played together at the Stormers nine years ago. He is a fantastic guy, he’s a good individual.
“To be honest, I can’t comment on it and I’m not gonna justify it [the questioning of Mbonambi], but all I will say is that he is a fantastic guy.
“He is a great guy, passionate guy. He’s a family man. He has captained the Springboks now a couple of times and he’s an upstanding guy. I don’t think there’s a player in the squad who doesn’t like him.”
The All Blacks assistant Scott McLeod also commented on the investigation on Tuesday.
“I learned about it this morning. It is something World Rugby will deal with,” McLeod said. “If anything came of it, it would be a massive dent for them. He is a leader of their team. When Siya [Kolisi, South Africa captain] goes off, he becomes the captain so I imagine it would impact them.”
Vice-captain Courtney Lawes will retire from England duty at the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup.
The 34-year-old has played in four World Cups and two British and Irish Lions tours and is one of only five Englishmen to be capped 100 times.
His bid to finish on a high with coach Steve Borthwick’s side ended against South Africa in Saturday’s semi-final.
“I think it’s time. I’ve done four World Cups, so I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.
“I haven’t told Steve yet! But I will let him know.
“It’s a bit of an end of an era, but it’s been a real honour for me to represent England for so long. It flies by.
“I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on. To be able to finish with this group, it’s something I’ll treasure forever.”
Lawes, who has made 105 international appearances across 15 years, could play his final game in Friday’s bronze-medal match Argentina.
He made his England debut against Australia in 2009 when Borthwick was team captain.
The flanker was a beaten finalist against the Springboks in 2019 and also played in the 2011 and 2015 tournaments, in addition to representing the Lions in 2017 and 2021.
He believes England have a bright future and is determined to sign off at international level, although he will continue to play at at club level for Northampton, by helping the team finish third.
“We showed to everyone what it means to play for this team,” he said. “Play for your country and the boys alongside you.
“I think people can see now what a good coach he is – and where this team can really go.
“We want to finish on a high. It’s important for us to finish properly and send us all off on a good win.”
Wayne Barnes, Test rugby’s most experienced whistleblower, will referee his first World Cup final on Sunday (AEDT).
The tournament organisers announced Barnes’s selection on Tuesday AEDT. His assistants are Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley and the TMO is Tom Foley.
Aussie ref Nic Berry will take the centre for the third place playoff. He will be assisted by Nika Maashukeli from Georgia and Andrew Brace from Ireland. The TMO is Ben Whitehouse.
Barnes is in his fifth World Cup. In his first, in 2007, he upset All Blacks fans over an error in their quarter-final loss to France where he allowed the French to score off a forward pass. Later that year he apparently was voted the third most hated man in New Zealand.