England flanker Tom Curry has been on the receiving end of relentless online abuse this week and captain Owen Farrell, usually a player who says the minimum in his media dealings, took to the microphone on Wednesday to say it was unacceptable.
During last week’s World Cup semi-final Curry approached the referee saying that South African hooker Bongi Mbonambi had used discriminatory and abusive language towards him.
World Rugby and South Africa Rugby have both been investigating the accusation but have yet to make any announcement about possible punishment, which could include a ban that would rule Mbonambi out of Saturday’s final against New Zealand.
“What isn’t understandable is the amount of abuse he’s got,” Farrell said in press conference ahead of Friday’s bronze final against Argentina. “The effect that that has, not just on him, is the bit that I and we really don’t understand. I know it seems to be going more and more like this, but 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.
“We wanted people to know our support of Tom but it’s not something that we’ve been talking about constantly. Tom wants to get involved in this contest on Friday. It’s his 50th cap, it’s an unbelievably proud week for him.”
Coach Steve Borthwick said he had never considered leaving Curry out of the match because of the controversy. “When he came off that pitch on Saturday night he was cut and bloodied,” he said.
“So I chatted to him about how he was physically with another six-day turnaround, because he has more involvements than anyone else on the pitch, and he looked straight at me and said: ‘I am desperate to play on Friday night’.
“This guy wants to play and the way he has prepared through the week has been incredible. But that is Tom Curry. It is the way he does it every single week so I couldn’t be more proud of him.
“This is not a Tom Curry incident – someone has said something in the game that he has reported and he is getting on with preparing. This is a World Rugby and SA Rugby matter to deal with.”
Curry’s Premiership club also issued a statement on Wednesday saying: “Sale Sharks’ owners, players, coaches and staff are absolutely appalled by the nature and level of disgusting abuse directed at Tom Curry and his family. Everyone at the club stands fully and proudly behind Tom.”
Farrell described Curry, who was sent off in the third minute of England’s opening game against Argentina for a dangerous tackle, as “one of the most honest, most hardworking blokes I’ve have I’ve ever played with.
“I hope he knows that everybody close to him supports him, and backs him all the way and I’m sure he does,” he added. “I’m sure the people that are close to him. I hope they know that he is being supported really well, as well.”
Ahead of the tournament World Rugby announced that it was partnering with Signify Group to protect the event’s online community and “take action against hate speech and abuse” but it is not clear if any action has been taken against anyone in this case.
Farrell said it had made him even more wary of social media, saying: “It doesn’t make me look fondly on it, look fondly on engaging with people outside of the people that are close to you. It doesn’t make me look fondly on doing that, no.”