Eben Etzebeth makes South Africa's World Cup squad amid assault claims
Last Updated: 26/08/19 4:49pm
South Africa included experienced lock Eben Etzebeth in their World Cup squad amid claims he was involved in a bar fight and another altercation on the street at a beach resort over the weekend, prompting him to issue a public denial.
Etzebeth was among the 31 players named by coach Rassie Erasmus for the World Cup in Japan starting next month. Flanker Siya Kolisi will captain the squad after recovering from an injury that saw him miss the Springboks' entire victorious Rugby Championship campaign.
Etzebeth denied any involvement in the two incidents, and the South African rugby body said it was standing by him. There was no immediate indication that police were investigating the claims that Etzebeth, a 78-Test veteran, was involved in assaulting or racially abusing anyone in the coastal town of Langebaan, near Cape Town, on Sunday.
"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," Etzebeth said in a statement.
SA Rugby said it had "no tolerance" for acts of violence or racism "but we also trust our people to act responsibly and tell the truth. We have spoken to Eben and he categorically denies any physical or racial abuse."
Etzebeth is a key part of the Springboks' forward engine room and is one of five players in the squad with more than 50 Test caps. Full-back Willie le Roux, utility back Frans Steyn, flanker Francois Louw and prop Tendai Mtawarira, who has played 110 Tests, are the others.
Erasmus sprang no surprises with his selection as South Africa goes in search of a third World Cup title to move level with New Zealand and first since 2007.
The Springboks have the toughest possible start to their campaign when they face two-time defending champion New Zealand, who won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, in their first game on September 21.
A New Zealand win would perhaps have been a foregone conclusion two years ago, when South Africa slumped to a series of embarrassing and historic losses under former coach Allister Coetzee, including a record 57-0 defeat by the All Blacks.
However, Erasmus has turned the Springboks around rapidly since taking over in early 2018.
I am confident that any of this 31 can step into a play-off match at the Rugby World Cup and deliver an outstanding performance
The Springboks beat the All Blacks in New Zealand last season and drew 16-16 away against them last month, a result that helped South Africa win its first southern hemisphere title in 10 years. The Boks are also unbeaten this season.
"We just want to say thank you for supporting us through the tough times," captain Kolisi said. "We've been working hard the last two years to make sure we gain a bit of respect."
Kolisi missed two months with a knee injury but made a successful return to action in the World Cup warm-up game against Argentina just over a week ago.
Apart from Kolisi, every other member of the squad played some part in the Rugby Championship.
"We set out with the goal of growing the depth of the squad and I am confident that any of this 31 can step into a playoff match at the Rugby World Cup and deliver an outstanding performance," Erasmus said.
"We've been working towards this moment for the best part of two years and we've been lucky in achieving most of our goals this season. But the results and performances up to now will mean nothing once we are in Japan. It is a case of back to square one."
South Africa squad
Forwards: Schalk Brits, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi (c), Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Franco Mostert, Trevor Nyakane, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Duane Vermeulen.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Willie le Roux, Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn.