By Nick Said
KOBE (Reuters) – South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus says his Springbok team have never been more united and dismissed claims of racism after a video posted on social media following Friday’s 49-3 Rugby World Cup victory over Italy triggered a storm back home.
TV cameras caught six white players appearing to exclude Makazole Mapimpi from their celebrations following the Italy victory and, even though the black winger made his own video explaining it away, Erasmus felt obliged to offer a detailed explanation of events.
The coach said the Boks call the replacements the ‘Bomb Squad’, as they “either come in and fix it when it is not going well on the park or it is a false alarm and maybe they don’t even get onto the park”.
“It was a standing joke in the team and the whole week that Lood de Jager, who was now in the starting line-up, was out of the Bomb Squad,” Erasmus told reporters in Kobe on Sunday.
“So at the end of the game, when the Bomb Squad was getting together, Lood was on his way there and Frans Steyn told him, ‘you are not part of the squad anymore’ and gestured for him to go away.
“Mapimpi was on his way over to them at the same time, saw it was the Bomb Squad and just turned around. It’s so sad that people would see something negative in it because I can give you my word, as a head coach I would not allow anything like that in the team.”
The Springboks were once an iconic symbol of white South Africa and the integration of players from other races since the end of Apartheid and first democratic elections 25 years ago has been a long and often politically-charged process.
It has been a difficult week for the Boks off the field as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) confirmed they would open a case against lock Eben Etzebeth over allegations he physically and racially abused a patron in a bar in late August.
Etzebeth has vehemently denied any wrong-doing, but is likely to have to defend himself against the charges in South Africa’s Equality Court, which hears civil cases, when he returns from the World Cup.
It has divided opinion in the nation as to whether Etzebeth should be in Japan at all, and stoked conversation about racism as South Africa struggles to reconcile with its Apartheid past.
Erasmus, who played 36 times for the Springboks around the turn of the century, said this was one of the most tight-knit South Africa teams he had been involved in.
“I have been part of a lot of Springbok teams and this is one where there are not a lot of egos,” he said. “We have picked the best guys in South Africa and there are so many different cultures and languages.
“I think this team is representing the country with a lot of pride and we are really united. No-one can points fingers at this team.”
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)