JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Aug 26 – Eben Etzebeth, who has denied allegations of pointing a gun at a homeless man at the weekend, was included Monday in a surprise-free 31-man Springboks Rugby World Cup squad.
The 27-year-old lock was accused on social media of insulting, assaulting and pointing a gun at a homeless man Sunday in the coastal town of Langebaan, 135 kilometres (84 miles) north of Cape Town.
“It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media,” the 78-cap star told the South African media.
“Multiple witnesses can corroborate that. I am and will always strive to be a true ambassador to this beautiful rainbow nation and the sport that I love.”
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus admitted to being “definitely worried” when he heard the news “because it could have been a massive problem for us”.
“I am comfortable with what Eben told me. If it did happen, he could not be part of the World Cup, but at this stage there is no proof.”
A statement from national body South Africa Rugby said “we have spoken to Eben and he categorically denies any physical or racial abuse on his part as alleged in social media”.
“(SA Rugby) has no tolerance of acts of violence or racial abuse. We will co-operate with the authorities in any way necessary.
“Our Rugby World Cup squad will have no place for anyone who transgresses those principles.”
Erasmus said: “We have planned and trained to be competitive at the Rugby World Cup and the work done and the performances this year have put us into a good space.”
Trophy-holders New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, South Africa and Wales are considered the strongest title contenders. Among them, the Springboks are the only side unbeaten since July.
“Rugby World Cups are usually decided by small margins — a foot in touch here or a referee’s call there — but we have a very good squad that has grown into a tight unit over the past few months.
– ‘Good balance’ –
“I am very happy with the squad we have been able to select. We have been developing this squad since the start of last season and have a good balance of established experience and some exciting youth.
“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.”
Siya Kolisi will captain the squad and is one of a record 11 black players chosen for a South Africa World Cup squad, up from eight who went to the last tournament in England and Wales four years ago.
Last year, flanker Kolisi became the first black Test captain of the Springboks, a team reserved for white players during most of the apartheid era.
Of the 32 players who attended a camp in Bloemfontein last week, Toulouse flanker Rynhardt Elstadt lost out to Lions’ Kwagga Smith in a contest for the fifth back row position.
South Africa leave for Japan Friday and will play the World Cup hosts on September 6 ahead of a mouth-watering Pool B opener against defending champions New Zealand 15 days later.
The Springboks also face Namibia, Italy and Canada with the pool winners and runners-up qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Schalk Brits (Bulls), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens/ENG), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Franco Mostert (Gloucester/ENG), RG Snyman (Bulls), Siya Kolisi (Stormers, capt), Francois Louw (Bath/ENG), Kwagga Smith (Lions), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz/JPN), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse/FRA), Sibusiso Nkosi (Sharks), Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Damian de Allende (Stormers), Francois Steyn (Montpellier/FRA), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Handre Pollard (Bulls), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks/ENG), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints/ENG)
Coach: Rassie Erasmus (RSA)