South Africa's RWC squad: Kolisi captain & Etzebeth included

South Africa's Rynhardt Elstadt, top center, wins the ball against Argentina's Guido Petti, top right, during a line-out for the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
South Africa's coach Rassie Erasmus during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. South Africa beat Argentina 24-18. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
South Africa's coach Rassie Erasmus during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. South Africa beat Argentina 24-18. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
South Africa's Siya Kolisi during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa included experienced lock Eben Etzebeth in its Rugby World Cup squad on Monday, despite claims that he was involved in a bar fight and another altercation on the street at a beach resort over the weekend.

Etzebeth issued a public denial saying he was not involved in either.

Etzebeth was among the 31 players named by coach Rassie Erasmus for the World Cup in Japan starting next month. Flanker Siya Kolisi will captain the squad after recovering from a knee injury that saw him miss the Springboks' entire victorious Rugby Championship campaign.

Etzebeth denied any involvement in the incidents, and the South African rugby body said it was standing by him. There was no immediate indication that police were investigating the claims that Etzebeth, a 78-test veteran, assaulted and racially abused a man in the coastal town of Langebaan, near Cape Town, in the early hours of Sunday.

"It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that," Etzebeth said in a statement.

SA Rugby said it had "no tolerance" for acts of violence or racism "but we also trust our people to act responsibly and tell the truth. We have spoken to Eben and he categorically denies any physical or racial abuse."

The 6-foot-8 Etzebeth is a key part of the Springboks' forward engine room and is one of five players in the squad with more than 50 test caps. Fullback Willie le Roux, utility back Frans Steyn, flanker Francois Louw and prop Tendai Mtawarira, who has played 110 tests, are the others.

Erasmus sprang no surprises with his selection as South Africa goes in search of a third World Cup title — to move level with New Zealand — and first since 2007.

The Springboks have the toughest possible start to their campaign when they face two-time defending champion New Zealand, which won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, in their first game on Sept. 21.

A New Zealand win would perhaps have been a foregone conclusion two years ago, when South Africa was slumping to a series of embarrassing and historic losses under former coach Allister Coetzee, including a record 57-0 defeat by the All Blacks.

Erasmus has turned the Springboks around rapidly since taking over in early 2018.

The Springboks beat New Zealand in New Zealand last season and drew 16-16 away against the All Blacks last month, a result that helped South Africa win its first southern hemisphere title in 10 years. The Boks are unbeaten this season.

"We just want to say thank you for supporting us through the tough times," captain Kolisi said. "We've been working hard the last two years to make sure we gain a bit of respect."

Kolisi, who is South Africa's first black test captain, missed two months with injury but made a successful return to action in the World Cup warmup game against Argentina just over a week ago.

Apart from Kolisi, every other member of the squad played some part in the Rugby Championship.

"We set out with the goal of growing the depth of the squad and I am confident that any of this 31 can step into a playoff match at the Rugby World Cup and deliver an outstanding performance," Erasmus said.

"We've been working towards this moment for the best part of two years and we've been lucky in achieving most of our goals this season. But the results and performances up to now will mean nothing once we are in Japan. It is a case of back to square one."

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Squad:

Backs: Willie le Roux, Warrick Gelant, Cheslin Kolbe, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Frans Steyn, Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach, Herschel Jantjies.

Forwards: Schalk Brits, Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Steven Kitshoff, Tendai Mtawarira, RG Snyman, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Kwagga Smith, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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