Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi has been cleared to play the World Cup final and no action will be taken in the wake of allegations that he racially abused England’s Tom Curry.
England’s Rugby Football Union has reacted by saying they are “deeply disappointed” with the decision while South Africa have defended the “honesty and integrity” of Mbonambi who has denied the allegations.
England also claimed Curry was the victim of “the same abuse, from the same Player, in the Autumn Test 2022”, adding “the RFU fully support Tom Curry in raising the racially abusive behaviour he experienced.”
During the semi-final loss to South Africa last weekend Curry suggested to referee Ben O’Keeffe that he was called a “white c—” by Mbonambi. It emerged that he also accused Mbonambi of abusing him last year.
World Rugby released a statement on Thursday (AEDT) that said insufficient evidence had been found to proceed in the matter and they would not be pursuing further action.
England believe there should have been an independent hearing where Curry’s allegations could be heard.
“Let’s be clear: Tom Curry has done nothing wrong. We have a victim of the situation who has not been able to have his voice heard,” said England coach Steve Borthwick on Thursday.
“By World Rugby’s decision, they have denied the opportunity for the victim of the situation, Tom Curry, to have his voice heard. That’s where the disappointment really comes.”
The World Rugby statement read:
“World Rugby has undertaken a review of allegations made by England’s Tom Curry in relation to the use of discriminatory language by South Africa’s Mbongeni Mbonambi during the England versus South Africa Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-final on Saturday along with a further allegation brought forward in recent days about a previous match in the Autumn Nations Series 2022.
“Any allegation of discrimination is taken extremely seriously by World Rugby, warranting a thorough investigation. Having considered all the available evidence, including match footage, audio and evidence from both teams, the governing body has determined that there is insufficient evidence at this time to proceed with charges. Therefore, the matter is deemed closed unless additional evidence comes to light.
“It is important to note that World Rugby accepts that Tom Curry made the allegations in good faith, and that there is no suggestion that the allegation was deliberately false or malicious.
“World Rugby is also concerned by the social media abuse that both players have been subjected to this week. There is no place in rugby or society for discrimination, abuse or hate speech, and World Rugby urges fans to embrace the sport’s values of respect, integrity and solidarity.”
England’s RFU responded with a statement that made clear their opposition to the decision.
“The RFU fully support Tom Curry in raising the racially abusive behaviour he experienced whilst playing for England against South Africa,” the statement read.
“During the match between England and South Africa on Saturday 21st October 2023, Tom Curry reported to the referee that he has been racially abused by Mbongeni Mbonambi.
“The subsequent World Rugby investigation were informed by Tom Curry that he had also been the victim of the same abuse, from the same player, in the Autumn Test 2022.
“World Rugby have today announced their decision not to bring charges in respect of either incident.
“The RFU are deeply disappointed by the decision taken by World Rugby. The decision not to put the evidence before an Independent Disciplinary Panel has denied the disciplinary process the opportunity to hear Tom Curry’s voice and to independently assess his account of these serious events, together with the other available evidence.
“In their continued full support of Tom, the RFU together with the England Squad, condemn the disgusting abuse he and his family has received on social media as a result of his having had the courage to put unacceptable behaviour that has no place in society or on the rugby field, in the public eye.
“Abuse of any kind is not acceptable and goes against the core values of rugby. It is important that it is safe and acceptable for everyone involved in rugby union to raise concerns, and the RFU continue to encourage everyone to report any unacceptable behaviour in the game.”
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said he had reached out to Curry.
“I have spoken to him, I sent him a message. He is someone I respect,” Kolisi said on Thursday. “We can take it as players, when it comes to us directly it’s fine, but when it comes to your family it’s totally different and that’s exactly what he said to me.
“It’s the one part of the game we really don’t enjoy. I hope obviously it stops and he was able to prepare fas much as he could for the game that he’s playing tomorrow.
“I have let him know we are supporting him, we are thinking of him.”
The South African Rugby Union released a statement of their own that read: “SA Rugby has noted World Rugby’s announcement concerning their investigation into an incident arising from the Rugby World Cup semi-final and welcomes the decision that no further action will be taken.
“Any form of racism is abhorrent to SA Rugby and the Springbok team whose purpose is to do everything in its power to assist in uniting our diverse and multicultural nation.
“Bongi Mbonambi is an experienced, respected and decorated Test player and, needless to say, denied the allegations from the outset. SA Rugby has absolute faith in the honesty and integrity of Bongi.
“The team’s focus remains, as it has throughout the week, on Saturday’s match against New Zealand.”
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber named Mbonambi in his team to face New Zealand in the final on Sunday morning (AEDT). He said the team was not distracted by the incident.
“We are fortunate in terms of support of a legal team and everybody who worked behind the scenes. We were shielded from it,” Nienaber told reporters.
“We were in our bubble. For us we focused on rugby and that was taken care of in the background.”
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.
Mbonambi was 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 videos 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.”
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.”
Michael Cheika has batted away a question about his future as he prepares his Argentina team for the playoff against England.
The Australian has been linked to jobs in rugby league and even as a potential Wallabies replacement for Eddie Jones.
Asked if Saturday’s game was his last with the Pumas, Cheika responded: “I have no idea if it is my last game and I don’t think about it. We have a team of players, coaches and with the UAR (Argentine Rugby Union) we have a very good relationship.
“We only talk about the game, not about personal feelings. The focus is on the match and seeing how we finish higher in this RWC.
“Winning the bronze medal is very important. It’s a Rugby World Cup. It is very nice and very important.
“For us, for everything we did and for the country, to be able to win bronze is to finish as high as we can. Also the experience for everyone in the group, for the future and the legacy of the most experienced players. Finishing as high as we can was always the goal.”
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 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.