SA Rugby boss Alexander on storm around Etzebeth: 'We can’t just suspend the player'

A case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, crimen injuria and pointing a firearm has allegedly been opened against Eben Etzebeth. The Springbok lock is also facing hate speech charges at the Equality Court.
A case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, crimen injuria and pointing a firearm has allegedly been opened against Eben Etzebeth. The Springbok lock is also facing hate speech charges at the Equality Court.
Image: Steve Haag

SA Rugby has an obligation to protect itself. They also‚ up to a point‚ have a responsibility to the player who holds a contract with them‚ stressed president Mark Alexander on Thursday after news broke that the organisation would be instituting an internal process against lock Eben Etzebeth.

Etzebeth stands accused of assault and racial abuse following an altercation on the West Coast in the week leading up to the announcement of the Springbok team for the Rugby World Cup (RWC).

“This is also a matter between employer and employee‚" Alexander said.

"We can’t just suspend the player. What if it transpires in a few weeks that the player is actually innocent? He can take us to the cleaners. We have to protect the organisation.”

Naturally a question related to the matter was going to be fired at captain Siya Kolisi during his pre-match press conference on Thursday.

The Boks play Italy in a crucial RWC pool match on Friday but first Kolisi had to deal with matters with which he isn’t entirely up to speed.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

“I don’t know what is really happening. SA Rugby has put out a statement. We are just here to play.

"Eben is playing this weekend. We haven’t had any distraction this week‚” Kolisi insisted.

He was asked if Etzebeth‚ with whom Kolisi is close‚ has been affected by how matters have unfolded back home.

“No‚ not from what I’ve been seeing‚" he said.

"We have just been preparing for the game.

"That is all we’ve been talking about. This is a really important game this week.

“Every game now for us is a play-off game. If we slip up we are out of the competition.

"That is all we are focusing on.”

Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick was also probed about the extent to which the team is aware of the fall out back home.

“I won’t lie to you and say we know much about what is happening with the case‚ especially in South Africa.

"At the moment we are in the RWC. We are just focusing on making sure we get the team ready.

"Eben has been focused on what we want to achieve for the team. The management will deal with that case.

Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth has denied the allegations. A day after the alleged incident, he released a statement saying: "It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that."
Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth has denied the allegations. A day after the alleged incident, he released a statement saying: "It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that."
Image: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

“At the moment Eben is full out. He is playing (on Friday) and he is focused on the game‚” said Stick.

If the players and coaches have felt a little detached from what is happening back home so has SA Rugby’s communications machine.

They have adopted a wait and see approach hoping for the storm to blow over without confronting it.

Being in Japan is probably as far away from the storm as they can possibly be and they may have misread‚ or underestimated the sentiment back home.

Alexander said the legal proceedings will be conducted by an eminent person in the field but could not divulge the individual’s identity.

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