Bongi Mbonambi has accused England of being “unprofessional” after alleging the South Africa hooker directed a racial slur at Tom Curry.
The incident occurred during the Springboks’ 16-15 win against England in their Rugby World Cup semi-final in France on 21 October.
World Rugby reviewed video and audio footage and submissions from both teams before clearing Mbonambi to play in the final against New Zealand, ruling there was “insufficient evidence” that he had used the alleged term.
World Rugby said it was “concerned” by the online abuse both players [Mbonambi and Curry] had suffered. Organisers introduced technology intended to protect players, officials and coaches from abuse before the tournament.
“It is important to note that World Rugby accepts that Tom Curry made the allegations in good faith, and that there is no suggestion that the allegation was deliberately false or malicious,” a statement read.
Mbonambi, 32, says the misunderstanding came about because he was speaking Afrikaans, a language frequently used by Boks players to ensure team messages are not understood by the opposition.
“I think it is a very sad thing when you live in a first world country [England], you think the rest of the world speaks English,” Mbonambi told BBC Sport Africa.
“It was unprofessional on their part. They could have gone on a website and looked for an English dictionary and looked for the word in Afrikaans.
“People understood [in South Africa] but obviously their side was misunderstood.”
Flanker Curry approached referee Ben O’Keeffe about half an hour into the match in Paris, reported the alleged comment and asked what he should do in response.
“Nothing please,” replied O’Keeffe.
After concluding its investigation, World Rugby, the game’s global governing body, added that the case was “closed unless additional evidence comes to light”.
England head coach Steve Borthwick argued that Curry was denied a fair hearing, while the South African Rugby Union said it has “absolute faith in the honesty and integrity” of Mbonambi.
“I’m glad it was well taken care of [by World Rugby] and that is all in the past now,” Mbonambi added.
“But I have never racially swore at him.”
It was also alleged that the two players had clashed during the Springboks’ win over England in last year’s Autumn Nations Series, with Curry claiming a similar comment was made by Mbonambi in that match at Twickenham in November 2022.
“I don’t know him at all,” said Mbonambi when asked about his relationship with Curry.
‘Credit to Fourie’ after injury in the final
Mbonambi endured a nerve-wracking wait to find out whether he would be banned for the final against New Zealand while World Rugby carried out its investigation, with the Springboks coaching staff delaying naming their starting line-up.
Yet after being cleared to play, Mbonambi did not last long in the final in Paris, being forced out of the game in the fourth minute when All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell landed on his right knee.
It was a huge concern for South Africa as Deon Fourie, a converted flanker, took his place – but Mbonambi insisted he had full trust in Fourie.
The Springboks went on to win 12-11 to become the first side to win the title four times, and the second side after New Zealand to win it back-to-back.
“It didn’t feel good at all [to leave that early because of an injury],” Mbonambi revealed.
“As soon as it happened, I knew it was something wrong. But all credit to Fourie because he played his part.
“It was a tough position to be in and I believe he took it upon himself because he knew what he had to do. But it wasn’t easy.
“We knew that it wasn’t only one guy on the field but 14 other players who [had] got his back, and he knows that. That is how we work at the Springboks.”
After the Boks returned from the World Cup, Mbonambi and the rest of the squad took part in a four-day tour with the Webb Ellis trophy in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and East London.