Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Eben Etzebeth assault case hangs over South Africa 2019 Rugby World Cup clash against Italy

Springboks lock 'in good space' despite pending legal action for allegedly abusing and pointing a gun at a homeless man

South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth has denied accusations that he assaulted and racially abused a homeless man. AFP
South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth has denied accusations that he assaulted and racially abused a homeless man. AFP

South Africa said star lock Eben Etzebeth remains fully focused on Friday's do-or-die Rugby World Cup match with Italy, despite facing legal action for allegedly assaulting and racially abusing a homeless man.

SA Rugby said on Thursday that it would launch an "internal process" over the matter after South Africa's Human Rights Commission announced it was taking the case to court.

Etzebeth, 27, allegedly insulted, assaulted and pointed a gun at a 42-year-old homeless man in Langebaan, a seaside resort about 120 kilometres north of Cape Town in August.

The 81-Test second row, who has denied the allegations, was named in South Africa's squad for the World Cup in Japan just a day after the claims surfaced on social media.

"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," SA Rugby said in a statement.

"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," it added.

The Human Rights Commission announced it would "institute legal proceedings against Mr. Eben Etzebeth in the Equality Court" on Friday.

Despite the controversy, Etzebeth looked happy at the eve-of-match training at Ecopa Stadium, leading the squad onto the pitch wearing a cap and a large grin.

His first-up stretching was done with skipper Siya Kolisi, the two seemingly in deep conversation and apart from the rest of the 31-man squad before being called in for group passing drills.

"To be honest, I don't know what's really happening," said Kolisi. "I think SA Rugby issued a statement this morning ... I know Eben is playing this week."

Asked whether the giant second-rower had been affected by developments, Kolisi said: "No, not from what I'm seeing. We've just been preparing for the game.

"Every game for us is now a play-off game because if we slip up we're out of the competition."

Assistant South Africa coach Mzwandile Stick also said the focus was entirely on the match against Italy, the winner of which will likely advance to the quarter-finals.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say we know much about what's happening with the case back in South Africa," Stick said.

"At the moment, we're in the World Cup and as coaches and players we're just focusing on making sure that we get the team into the right space.

"At the moment Eben's full-out for the World Cup. He's going to be playing tomorrow and he's going to be focusing on the game. He's been in a good space as a team player and also the players around him in the squad are in a good space."

Etzebeth, who has signed to play for Top 14 giants Toulon after the World Cup, was interviewed by Human Rights Commission officials before flying out with the South African squad.

Meanwhile, Italy captain Sergio Parisse has called on his teammates to give their all against South Africa and not come off the at the Shizuoka Stadium pitch "with any regrets".

Italy sit unbeaten on top of Pool B, five points ahead of the Springboks, and an Azzurri win would send the team into the knockouts.

"We've thought about this for four years and now we are two days away from it, so we are aware it is an important match for us," said Parisse.

"Our gameplans won't count for anything if we don't have the right desire. If after 50 or 60 minutes we're exhausted, we have to hold up our hand and go off knowing we have given our all.

"We want to be competitive to the end. We don't have the pressure on us. They are the ones who will be feeling the pressure.

"We have 10 points and we've won the matches we need to. We have to sweat and give our all. We can't finish with any regrets."

Updated: October 3, 2019 04:12 PM

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