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World Rugby investigates alleged racist slur by South Africa’s Mbonambi

World Rugby has launched an investigation into allegations that England’s Tom Curry was called a “white cunt” by South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi during last weekend’s World Cup semi-final following an official complaint by the Rugby Football Union.

The global governing body confirmed that it was “formally reviewing the allegation” which could be heard on the referee Ben O’Keeffe’s microphone during the Springboks’ one-point victory. It is understood that the RFU took the decision to formally lodge a complaint on Sunday and “requested [World Rugby] investigate”.

Curry can clearly be heard on a recording via O’Keeffe’s microphone in conversation with the official in the 24th minute of the match. He said: “Sir, sir, if their hooker calls me a white cunt what do I do?” The New Zealander responded by saying: “Nothing please.” He goes on to add, after a short pause: “I’ll be on it,” though it is unclear if he is referring to the specific incident.

Tom Curry accuses South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi of using racial slurRead more

“World Rugby takes all allegations of discriminatory behaviour extremely seriously,” read a statement. “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 is currently at the stage of gathering all available audio and video evidence and it is understood the governing body hopes to determine whether there are grounds for disciplinary action swiftly. If action is ultimately taken against Mbonambi, South Africa could find themselves without their only specialist hooker for Saturday’s World Cup final against the All Blacks.

On Monday the South Africa scrum coach Daan Human refused to comment on the alleged incident and would not be drawn on whether he believed Mbonambi made the alleged racist slur, instead issuing a defence of the hooker’s character. The Springboks said on Sunday that they would be conducting their own investigation and it is understood that is still ongoing in conjunction with World Rugby.

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“He’s a great character,” said Human. “He’s down to earth, a very humble guy. He’s definitely a guy I would love to have in my team, in our team. That’s it, all I can say about him is he’s a great guy. I know his kids, my kids always look after his kids when they come to the hotel. He is very down to earth like the other players. He is a very calm guy, well-spoken.”

The South Africa second row Jean Kleyn added: “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 don’t justify it but all I will say is that he is a fantastic guy. He’s an upstanding guy. I don’t think there’s a player in the squad who doesn’t like him.”

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Referee Barnes gets Rugby World Cup final appointment

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England’s Wayne Barnes (pictured), the most experienced referee in history with 110 Tests, will officiate Saturday’s World Cup final between New Zealand and holders South Africa in Paris, World Rugby confirmed on Monday.

Barnes will have his compatriots Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley as his assistant referees, with Tom Foley named as the television match official.

“Congratulations to the match official team,” Rugby Football Union CEO Bill Sweeney said. “We are so pleased that Wayne will referee his first final alongside Karl, Matthew, Tom and Luke.

“It is the first time in World Cup history that all the officials have been appointed from one union and it speaks volumes for the quality of English officials and this group who work so brilliantly alongside one another.”

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Australian Nic Berry is to officiate Friday’s bronze final between England and Argentina that will also be played at the Stade de France. He will be assisted by Nika Amashukeli from Georgia and Ireland’s Andrew Brace.

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Curry was visibly angry after the match. When asked if something was said to him by Mbonambi, he said: “Yeah.” Pressed on what had been said, he declined to say but asked if the matter had been resolved at the end of the match – Curry appeared to go to shake hands with Mbonambi but the South African seemed to push his hand away – he added: “No. It doesn’t need to be talked about. I’m not talking about it now.”

Should World Rugby decide to take disciplinary action Mbonambi could be handed a suspension in line with law 9.12 which states a player must not verbally abuse anyone. World Rugby regulations prohibit abuse based on, but not limited to “religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation”.

The New Zealand defence coach Scott McLeod believes it would be a major blow for South Africa if Mbonambi, who acts as their vice-captain, is unavailable for Saturday’s final. “If anything came of it, it would be a massive dent for them,” said McLeod. “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.”

The UK prime minister also waded into the controversy, with a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak stating it is “rightly an issue that needs to be looked at by World Rugby and we await a response”.