England captain Owen Farrell: Online abuse of Tom Curry not acceptable

Owen Farrell has condemned the online vilification of Tom Curry after the England flanker alleged he was racially abused in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa.

England are furious that Curry has been targeted online for claiming to referee Ben O’Keeffe that he had been called a “white c***” by Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

World Rugby is examining audio and video footage from the Stade de France clash as part of its investigation into the incident which is still ongoing, but in the meantime Curry has been the victim of a social media pile-on described by his club Sale as “disgusting”.

Tom Curry made the allegation during England's World Cup semi-final defeat
Tom Curry made the allegation during England’s World Cup semi-final defeat (Mike Egerton/PA)

A visibly angry Farrell on Wednesday defended his team-mate, who wins his 50th cap in Friday’s bronze final against Argentina.

“Tom has been first class this week, like he always is. He’s one of the most honest, most hard working blokes I’ve ever played with,” England captain Farrell said.

“What isn’t understandable is the amount of abuse he’s got. The effect that has on him is the bit that I, and we, really don’t understand.

“And I know it seems to be going more and more like this, but it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be.

“You are dealing with people, with human beings. Just because you’re saying stuff on your phone or behind a computer screen doesn’t make it acceptable. I don’t think it’s acceptable.

Owen Farrell speaks to the media
Owen Farrell speaks to the media about the incident (David Davies/PA)

“This doesn’t make me look fondly at engaging with people outside of the people that are close to you.”

Head coach Steve Borthwick has made it clear that Curry has been unjustly thrust into the eye of the storm in a doubling down of England’s claim that the Sale forward was racially abused by Mbonambi.

“This is not a Tom Curry incident. Somebody said something in a game that he has reported,” Borthwick said.

“Now this is a World Rugby and SA Rugby matter to deal with, not an England rugby nor a Tom Curry matter.”

Curry continues in the back row, although he shifts from openside to blindside flanker as one of 10 changes – eight in personnel – made to the side to face Argentina.

Borthwick insists he had no hesitation in standing Curry down for the rematch of the Pool D opener which England won despite having the 25-year-old sent off in the third minute for a dangerous tackle.

“The way Tom play means he has more involvements than any other player on the pitch. And they are physically powerful involvements,” Borthwick said.

“When he came off the pitch against South Africa he was cut and bloodied and that’s exactly how Tom Curry plays.

“I chatted to him early in the week about how he was physically with another six-day turnaround and he looked straight at me and point blank said: ‘I am desperate to play on Friday night’.

“This guy wants to play. There is no doubt in my mind he wants to be out there and the way he has prepared through the week has been incredible.

Bongi Mbonambi in training
Bongi Mbonambi is set to start Saturday’s World Cup final (David Davies/PA)

“But that’s Tom Curry. It’s the way he does it every single week so I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

With no indication of when World Rugby’s inquiry will conclude, Mbonambi will take part in Saturday’s World Cup final against New Zealand with a cloud hanging over him.

He has completed the last two matches – fierce battles against France and England – and given the lack of front line hooker cover, is set to play another 80 minutes against the All Blacks.

South Africa assistant coach Felix Jones said: “Bongi has come through both of those games fine. Any player who is getting ready to play in a World Cup final won’t moan about how many minutes they’ve had. They’ll be ready to go.”