Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick say that the case against Eben Etzebeth has not been a distraction for the player or the team ahead of the must-win game against Italy, reports JON CARDINELLI in Shizuoka.
Etzebeth was the first man out of the tunnel when the Boks arrived at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Thursday afternoon. The lock warmed up alongside Kolisi a few metres away from a horde of reporters and photographers.
Etzebeth hasn’t spoken at a media conference since the start of the World Cup. His entrance to the stadium on Thursday, however, could well be viewed as a response regarding the allegations against him.
On Wednesday, the South African Human Rights Commission announced that it would institute legal proceedings against Etzebeth in the Equality Court. Allegations of assault and racism have been made against the Bok lock following an incident in Langebaan in late August.
The Boks gathered for a team photograph outside their hotel in Omaezaki on Thursday morning. Etzebeth sat alongside the other senior players in the front row and there’s been nothing to suggest that he won’t start against Italy on Friday as planned.
Not long after the team photograph, SA Rugby put out a statement in response the Human Rights Commission’s announcement.
‘SA Rugby reaffirms its commitment as a good corporate citizen to abide by any requirements placed on it or its employees by South African authorities,’ the statement read.
‘We have fulfilled all requests to date and will continue to do so as and when advised. Following our discussions with the South African Human Rights Commission we have instituted an internal process to address the matter, the details of which remain an employment matter between SA Rugby and the player.’
The matter is far from resolved, though. Etzebeth is set to join Toulon next month, and the French media want to know whether the lock’s World Cup campaign is over or not.
When Kolisi was asked about the Etzebeth situation on Thursday, the Bok skipper said that the lock and the team as a whole remained focused on the task at hand.
‘I don’t know what’s happening back home. We’re just here to play,’ said Kolisi.
‘I can confirm that he’s playing. I don’t believe that there have been any distractions this week.’
Stick confirmed that the team was in a good mental space despite the storm around the case back in South Africa.
‘I would be lying if I said I knew what was happening with that case back home,’ Stick said. ‘Our job as coaches is to get the team in the right space and we feel like we’ve done that.
‘Eben has been training full out all week and he will be playing tomorrow. He’s been in a good space. The players are in a good space and all the focus is on Italy and getting a good result.’
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets