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Case against Springboks lock Etzebeth going to court

HAMAMATSU, Japan (AP) — Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth could be forced to leave Japan midway through the Rugby World Cup after the South African Human Rights Commission said it was taking him to court over a case of alleged physical and racial abuse.

The commission on Wednesday said it would "institute legal proceedings" against Etzebeth at an equality court on Friday. That's the same day that Etzebeth, a key member of the South African team, is due to play against Italy in a crucial World Cup pool game in Shizuoka.

It's unclear if the court will require that Etzebeth return home to take part in proceedings. A South Africa team spokesman in Japan didn't immediately reply to messages requesting clarification.

Etzebeth was accused of racially abusing a person while on a night out during a vacation in the South African coastal town of Langebaan in August. He was also accused of assault the same night. He has denied both allegations.

The late-night incidents are alleged to have happened the day before South Africa's World Cup squad was announced.

SA Rugby promised to cooperate with authorities and said it would take a hard-line approach if Etzebeth was found to be guilty. But it also backed Etzebeth after his denials, saying we "trust our people to act responsibly."

Etzebeth met with the human rights commission, the HRC, before flying to Japan with the Springboks squad. The allegations are also being investigated by criminal prosecutors.

"As good and law-abiding corporate citizens, SA Rugby have given our full co-operation in the Eben Etzebeth investigation and will continue to do so," SA Rugby said last month. "The case is in the hands of (prosecutors) and the HRC. We trust and believe they will investigate it thoroughly. Once their findings are known, we will adhere to whatever is decided."

The human rights commission and equality courts were set up in the wake of South Africa's apartheid past and deal with cases of racial and also other discrimination. The courts generally operate like civil courts. The person accusing Etzebeth of racial abuse and assault made a complaint to the human rights commission.

The 27-year-old Etzebeth, who is 6-foot-8 tall, has played 81 tests and is one of the most experienced players in the Springboks squad. He's played a part in both South Africa's games at the World Cup so far, starting in the loss to defending champion New Zealand and coming off the bench in a big win against Namibia on Saturday.

He was named to start the game against Italy on Friday, when South Africa effectively needs to win to stay in contention at the World Cup.

Etzebeth said in a statement after the allegations surfaced that it was "completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone ... multiple witnesses can corroborate that."

Etzebeth was reportedly out at a bar in Langebaan with friends and family members when the incidents are alleged to have taken place.

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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