England captain Courtney Lawes believes that anyone found to have been the source of the racism directed at Luther Burrell should be publicly exposed.
Burrell revealed in a newspaper interview with the Mail on Sunday that he had been racially abused by team-mates, including receiving comments about bananas, fried chicken and slavery.
Newcastle, his most recent club, are investigating to determine whether the incidents outlined by the former England centre took place during his two years at Kingston Park, while the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby have apologised.
Lawes is friends with Burrell – the pair have been team-mates at Northampton and with England – and while he has not encountered racism in the same way, he insists it must be rooted out wherever it surfaces.
“I had a problem with him saying that racism is rife in rugby,” said Lawes on the eve of Saturday’s first Test against Australia in Perth.
“If I’m honest, that’s not been my experience. But if that kind of stuff is going on in certain clubs, it needs to be addressed.
“I read the article and I was shocked about the stuff that’s been said to Luther because at most clubs – knowing the boys from different clubs who come into the England camp – it just wouldn’t be accepted. It’s not even a joke, it’s way beyond that.
“I’m feeling for him and I’m not sure what’s going on up there, but it’s absolutely not acceptable.
“I agree with Ellis Genge – I think the person or people who are doing that need to be outed, because it’s just not acceptable in our game.
“We need to squash this. We need to find out what is happening and if it’s happening at any other clubs. We need to get it sorted.
“We want rugby to be the best version of rugby it can be. We don’t want things like that going on in the game.
“That’s why I was surprised that at any club, any colour of player would accept that kind of behaviour.
“It’s tough because Luther’s a close friend of mine, but I was disappointed that he didn’t call it out at the time.
“Being the player he is, 35 and a senior guy, he should have been addressing that but he knows that. But I feel for him so I’ll send him a message and see what he’s up to.”
Burrell’s revelations have shone a light on racism in rugby, but in Lawes’ eyes the sport has another issue that must also be tackled.
“The class thing is the main thing. We’ve got loads of private school lads at Saints and, to be honest, I take the p*** out of them far more than they would the other way round!” the lock said.
“It’s just about getting the opportunities for kids from working-class backgrounds. If I hadn’t gone to Northampton School for Boys, I’d have never played rugby.
“So I got lucky and it’s probably the same for Ellis Genge and a few other boys who come from backgrounds which are not full of wealth.
“It’s about making the game accessible for everyone and if you do that, you will see lots of different kinds of people and different colours of people playing the game.
“That will be better for rugby as a whole and for society in general, because we’re all people. We all bleed the same. A lot of the time, you actually have quite a lot in common with people from different backgrounds.”
England enter Saturday’s series opener against the Wallabies as underdogs to secure a ninth successive victory in the fixture.
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