EXCLUSIVE: Tom Curry’s ‘white ****’ slur claim rocked the Rugby World Cup. Speaking out for the first time, he stands by his accusation but wants to move on: ‘I heard what I heard. There’s no misunderstanding on my part at all’
- Tom Curry alleged South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi called him a ‘white ****’
- The England flanker’s allegation dominated the build-up to the World Cup final
- Curry admits the World Cup was a bittersweet campaign but wants to move on
The wound on the bridge of Tom Curry’s nose has just about healed up. The same goes for the six stitches above his right eye. ‘I’m going to have to wear head-tape for a while,’ he says, taking a seat in the team room at Sale’s training base. ‘It’s just superficial, though, isn’t it?’
He took time to rest up after his arrival back in the UK last week, dropping his bronze medal at his parents’ house before checking into a hotel in Knutsford with his girlfriend and their miniature dachshund, Toby.
The cuts and bruises are easing, although the pain of England’s World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa will live with him for a while. But there is one other thing he wants to address before he leaves the bittersweet campaign in France behind him.
‘First of all, I’m extremely proud of the group,’ says the flanker. ‘Injuring my ankle before the first World Cup warm-up game, my red card against Argentina. It wasn’t the best start but it was growing. You could feel it.
‘A lot of things were thrown our way but we improved each game. Playing against South Africa, we had a game plan that we stuck to and you could feel a real sense of everyone coming together. It felt similar to that New Zealand semi-final in 2019. It wasn’t always perfect but you felt like we were pushing towards something. It was just a shame we couldn’t get it across the line.
England star Tom Curry has reflected on a bittersweet World Cup in France to Mail Sport
Curry admits England’s World Cup semi-final loss to South Africa will live with him for a while
Curry stands by his allegation Bongi Mbonambi, left, called him a ‘white c***’ in the semi-final
The England flanker reported the incident to referee Ben O’Keeffe leading to an investigation
Curry had also alleged he was abused by Mbonambi in an Autumn Nations match in 2022
‘The disappointment of the semi-final, being a point away, it’s sad. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. We had a lot of doubters, so to come away with a bronze medal, I couldn’t be prouder. Those challenging moments are the ones that you’re grateful for. You want it to be plain sailing, but it isn’t.’
The issue that Curry wants to address is the incident with Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi. Curry reported Mbonambi to the referee during England’s semi-final in Paris when he heard the South African call him a ‘white c***’ during a break in play. It is also alleged to have happened last year.
Throughout his career, Curry has never been an individual who seeks the limelight or courts headlines. He is here on his own accord, to give his own version of events rather than sit on his hands as his loved ones are dragged into the complex and toxic narrative.
‘I didn’t really want to speak about it from the start,’ Curry says. ‘For me, on both occasions, the ball was out of play. Me and Bongi were talking and there’s no misunderstanding from my part. I went to the referee straight away. I heard what I heard. That’s all I really want to say about it and I won’t really be talking about it again.’
In short, Curry stands by what he first reported. Mbonambi claimed this week he was saying ‘wit kant’ – Afrikaans for ‘white side’ – and accused England of being ‘unprofessional’ after they criticised World Rugby for not launching a thorough investigation.
The situation was distastefully mocked by the South African government and Mbonambi was even presented with a jersey that derided the allegations. Curry’s family were subsequently subjected to online abuse, leaving the 25-year-old in a position he wants to quickly move on from.
‘It was tough for my family, my girlfriend and my brother. It was a tough experience but it is what it is. The investigation’s been done and that’s all I want to say about it.’
Curry watched South Africa’s final victory over New Zealand with his team-mates in Paris. He offered his congratulations to the Springboks – a team he has faced 11 times – as they became the first country to lift the Webb Ellis Cup four times.
South Africa beat England in the semi-finals before edging New Zealand in a thrilling final
South Africa, captained by Siya Kolisi, became the first nation to win the World Cup four times
Curry’s allegations were mocked when Mbonambi was presented with a shirt saying ‘wen kant’ – Afrikaans for ‘winning side’
‘It was a great game of rugby and credit to South Africa. We watched it in a big hall in Paris. A bar, basically. They put it up on a big screen for us and it was a double denim theme for the team!
‘It was a bit weird to watch. I dipped in and out. Having a few South African lads here at Sale, playing with the likes of Faf [de Klerk], you can see there’s a lot more that goes into their rugby than what you just see on the pitch.
‘Rugby’s very special out there. When you go and play there, it is different. I love playing against South Africa and playing out there. They just love it, don’t they? The way rugby brings their nation together is really special. The celebrations over there are brilliant.’
A red card for All Blacks captain Sam Cane was one of the biggest talking points during the final. Like Curry, the flanker was sent off for a high shot. Curry returned to Manchester with no complaints about his red card.
‘Personally, with mine, I think the ref got the right call,’ he says. ‘I need to be lower. I did my tackle school and it made me a lot more conscious about dropping my height. Safety’s safety. As players we just have to adapt. The referees did a great job under a lot of pressure. The main thing is consistency. That’s the crux of it.’
The England star received online abuse following the allegations but now wants to move on
He revealed the abuse received online had been tough on his girlfriend, as well as his family
Curry admitted he had no complaints over his red card for a high tackle early in the World Cup
Curry stressed England were proud of their bronze medals and will target the 2027 World Cup
The consolation for Curry is that he will have another chance. He has plenty of miles left in the tank and will have another shot at the World Cup in 2027, as Steve Borthwick prepares to launch the new four-year cycle.
‘We wanted to celebrate some of the lads’ careers. Jonny May, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole – they’re magnificent England players who will be legends. To celebrate their careers is important but we’ll keep moving forward. It’s important to keep that momentum.
‘You’d like to think you could complete the collection at some point. Bronze, silver and hopefully gold. It’s something to hold onto. A lot of work’s gone into that medal. You look at it and see how much work has gone in but also use it as motivation to kick on and get better.’
The same goes for Sale. Curry has a runner’s up medal from last season’s Premiership final and he is desperate to go one better. And he hopes to do so with minimal fuss, leaving the unsavoury events of the past few weeks behind him.
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