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Sunak asks World Rugby to look at it carefully: how the UK press is covering Mbonambi

Bongi Mbonambi during a Springbok training session at Stade des Fauvettes in Domont, Paris on Wednesday.
Bongi Mbonambi during a Springbok training session at Stade des Fauvettes in Domont, Paris on Wednesday.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

Even UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has weighed in on allegations of a racial slur by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi against England flank Tom Curry at the Rugby World Cup, though in a fairly ambiguous manner.

The British press has gone to town on coverage of the issue after audio from referee Ben O'Keeffe's microphone emerged in which Curry is heard to allege Mbonambi called him a “white c**t” in the Boks' 16-15 semifinal win in Paris on Saturday.

World Rugby is investigating the allegation, but has not yet drawn a conclusion.

The Standard reported Sunak's view according to his spokesperson is: “It’s rightly an issue that needs to be looked at carefully by World Rugby ... we await the response.”

A popular and seemingly plausible defence of Mbonambi that has emerged with the circulation of a video that gives a different perspective to the incident is he was shouting “white kant” or “wit kant” (white, or English, side) as the ball came out of a ruck on the Roses' side at Stade de France.

The Telegraph's senior rugby writer Charlie Morgan, however, argued the video clip circulated was not of the moment being investigated by World Rugby. The report said it was understood World Rugby is investigating a different exchange, after the ball went out of play.

The Daily Mail (MailOnline) reported Curry has received “threats and abuse” online after making the accusation. 

The report said “one user posted on X: 'We want Tom Curry sued for defamation of character unless he issues a public apology.'”

“Others went further, with one X user posting: 'Tom Curry must never set foot in South Africa, ever.'”

The report said Curry has disabled comments on his Instagram page because of the backlash.

The Daily Mail and the Independent reported the England team are rallying around Curry before their third-place playoff against Argentina at Stade de France on Friday (9pm).

The 25-year-old was picked on Wednesday to earn his 50th cap in the bronze final.

England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth was quoted in the Independent as saying: “Tom is good. I know players will have got around him. Steve and the management team have been all over it. I’m sure he’s getting every bit of support he needs.”

Some of the UK press coverage of the Springboks has riled South Africa rugby supporters.

The Daily Mail ran a sensationalist story in the build-up to Saturday's semifinal alleging Boks physiotherapist Rene Naylor — depicted bikini-clad in a photo — is a practitioner of “dark arts” pitchside, including passing notes with instructions to players.

“The sports masseuse is never far from the action, frequently caught on camera bellowing at her team while clutching water bottles and a first aid kit,” the report said.

“But while she may appear to be the Springboks' biggest cheerleader, Ms Naylor has this week been accused of passing messages from the coaching team in violation of the rules.”

The report quoted Wales coach Warren Gatland saying: “If I was [England coach] Steve [Borthwick] this week, I would be asking how that is going to be properly managed.”

Gatland has history with the Springboks. The coach and Rassie Erasmus clashed when South Africa's director of rugby acted as a “water boy”, running onto the field and passing instructions to players during the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

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