World Rugby has opened an investigation into the alleged racist slur directed at England flanker Tom Curry by South Africa hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final.
Curry claimed to referee Ben O’Keeffe in the second quarter of the Stade de France clash 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.”
England – who had until Monday morning to lodge an official complaint with the citing officer – have declined to make any comment on the incident but South Africa began their own investigation on Sunday.
Although the alleged racist remark is not audible on the referee microphone, Curry’s subsequent conversation with O’Keeffe can be heard clearly.
“Sir, if their hooker calls me a white c***, what do I do?” the Sale flanker said.
O’Keeffe replied: “Nothing, please. I’ll be on it.”
If World Rugby’s inquiry triggers disciplinary proceedings they are likely to fall under the banner of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, which can result in a range of sanctions including a suspension and/or a fine.
No indication has been given of how long the investigation will take, complicating South Africa’s build up to the World Cup final, but there is a desire for it to be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible, the PA news agency understands.
Apart from the disruption caused by the fallout from the incident, the Springboks face the possible scenario of entering Saturday’s clash with New Zealand without a front-line hooker.
When Malcolm Marx was ruled out of the tournament by a knee injury in mid-September, fly-half Handre Pollard was called up instead of a replacement front row, leaving Mbonambi as the squad’s only specialist in the position.
Deon Fourie and Marco van Staden have been viewed as sufficient cover at hooker, but both players are primarily flankers.
A player cannot be called into a World Cup squad to cover for suspension, but special dispensation can be granted if it is felt the integrity of a match might be affected, in this instance by scrums having to be uncontested.
“We are aware of the allegation, which we take very seriously, and are reviewing the available evidence,” read a statement released by SA Rugby on Sunday.
“We will engage with Bongi if anything is found to substantiate the claim.”
When asked after the match if Mbonambi had said something he should not have done, a visibly upset Curry replied “yeah”, although he declined to reveal the content of the remark.
Mbonambi, who took over as captain once Siya Kolisi has been replaced, refused to shake Curry’s hand at the end of a dramatic clash in Paris that was won by Pollard’s penalty in the 78th minute.
South Africa scrum coach Daan Human refused to comment on the incident at the Springboks’ media session on Monday, but did a provide a glowing character reference for Mbonambi.
“Bongi has been part of this group for the last six years. He’s a very, very important piece of our puzzle,” Human said.
“He was starting in the last World Cup and started in our semi-final, so he’s definitely been important to us.
“He’s definitely one of our leaders and is a great, great man. He’s a family man and I know his kids. My kids look after his kids when they come to the hotel.
“He’s a very, very humble guy, is down to earth and is a hard worker. He’s a very calm guy, a well spoken guy.
“He’s a great character and is definitely a guy I would love to have in my team, in our team. That’s it. What I can say about him, he’s a great guy.”