Former South Africa head coach Pieter de Villiers has said he will refuse to support the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup over their handling of the alleged incident involving Eben Etzebeth, with the international forward being investigated by prosecutors over his involvement in an alleged assault and racial abuse during a bar brawl last month.
The 27-year-old was accused of being involved in a fight at a bar in the coastal town of Landebaan in the Western Cape, with an incident taking place in the early hours of 25 August.
Etzebeth, who has won 79 caps for the Springboks and is with the squad in Japan ahead of his second Rugby World Cup campaign, was also accused of racially abusing a man in a separate incident on the same night while out with friends and family.
Etzebeth has denied the allegations, and was allowed to travel with the squad to Tokyo ahead of the World Cup that gets underway on 20 August. “It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media,” Etzebeth said. “Multiple witnesses can corroborate that."
South Africa Rugby have also issued a statement to say that they “have given our full co-operation in the Eben Etzebeth investigation and will continue to do so.
“The case is in the hands of the NPA and the HRC. We trust and believe they will investigate it thoroughly. Once their findings are known, we will adhere to whatever is decided.
“We stand by our earlier comments that we will not tolerate acts of violence or racial abuse. SA Rugby will take appropriate action once the legal investigation and process have concluded."
The allegations surfaced a day before Etzebeth was named in the Springboks World Cup squad, and the union’s decision not to stand him down while the investigation is ongoing plus the failure to carry out an internal review has left former head coach De Villiers launching a strong verbal attack on his former employers.
De Villiers likened the situation to the one involving England cricketer Ben Stokes, who was stood down from international duty in 2017 until an investigation into an allegation of affray had concluded.
"I take allegations of racism personally because if you use racist words against the average man in the street then you can easily use it against me as well,” De Villiers told Planet Rugby. “By simply accepting Etzebeth's word and not launching an investigation, SA Rugby missed an opportunity to show that they are serious about stamping out racism. I therefore cannot support the Springboks at this year's World Cup.
"An internal investigation into the matter would have been the right thing to do as those are serious accusations made against the player.
"I was surprised that SA Rugby have opted not to take that option and allowed Etzebeth to go with the team to the World Cup.
"I find it disappointing that black administrators at SA Rugby like Mark Alexander (president) and Francois Davids (deputy president) have not done the right thing by launching an investigation and suspending the player until he has cleared his name.”
De Villiers became the Springboks’s first black head coach when he was appointed in 2008 to lead the side to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and he fears that the allegations against Etzebeth could lead to more black rugby fans in South Africa turning their back on the side – something that has happened in the past following Apartheid.
"I won't be surprised if that happens,” De Villiers added. “We already have several black rugby fans here in South Africa backing teams like the All Blacks and with allegations like racism rearing its ugly head against a prominent player, it could result in more people deserting the Springboks for other teams.”
South Africa begin their tournament against New Zealand on Saturday 21 September, leaving SA Rugby little time to address the situation that threatens to derail their campaign.
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