Eben Etzebeth during a media briefing. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES
Eben Etzebeth during a media briefing. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES

Shizuoka — SA Rugby has an obligation to protect itself. It also‚ up to a point‚ has a responsibility to the player who holds a contract‚ SA Rugby president Mark Alexander says after news broke that the national rugby body would institute an internal process against Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth.

SA Rugby made the decision after the SA Human Rights Commission announced on Wednesday that it would institute legal proceedings against Etzebeth in the equality court relating to allegations of an incident in Langebaan in August.

Etzebeth stands accused of assault and racial abuse after an alleged altercation in the Western Cape resort town in the week leading up to the announcement of the Springbok team for the Rugby World Cup.

“This is also a matter between employer and employee‚” Alexander said. “We can’t just suspend the player. What if it transpires in a few weeks that the player is actually innocent? He can take us to the cleaners. We have to protect the organisation.”

Naturally, a question related to the matter was going to be fired at captain Siya Kolisi during his pre-match media conference on Thursday.

The Boks play Italy in a crucial World Cup pool match on Friday, but first Kolisi had to deal with matters with which he is not entirely up to speed.

“I don’t know what is really happening. SA Rugby has put out a statement. We are just here to play. Eben is playing this weekend. We haven’t had any distraction this week‚” Kolisi insisted.

He was asked if Etzebeth‚ with whom Kolisi is close‚ has been affected by how matters have unfolded back home.

“No‚ not from what I’ve been seeing‚” he said. “We have just been preparing for the game. That is all we’ve been talking about. This is a really important game this week. Every game now for us is a play-off game. If we slip up we are out of the competition. That is all we are focusing on.”

Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick was also probed about the extent to which the team is aware of the fallout back home.

“I won’t lie to you and say we know much about what is happening with the case in SA. At the moment we are in the World Cup. We are just focusing on making sure we get the team ready.

“Eben has been focused on what we want to achieve for the team. The management will deal with that case. He is playing [on Friday] and he is focused on the game‚” said Stick.

If the players and coaches have felt a little detached from what is happening back home so has SA Rugby’s communications machine. It has adopted a wait-and-see approach, hoping for the storm to blow over.

Alexander said the legal proceedings will be conducted by an eminent person in the field but could not divulge the individual’s identity.