Russia replace Romania in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup pool
World Rugby sanction Romania, Spain and Belgium for using ineligible players
Spanish players protest to Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu after losing to Belgium in March. Photograph: EPA
In a controversial outcome to the highly vexed Rugby Europe qualification process for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Russia have qualified for the 2019 tournament and will play in Ireland’s group after Romania, Spain and Belgium were each docked points for repeatedly using ineligible players during the qualifying competition.
Following a review by an independent disputes committee into matters relating to the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, competitions that doubled as a Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification event, World Rugby docked the three nations five match points every time ineligible players were used.
This equated to 30 points for Romania, for fielding one ineligible player in six matches, 30 for Belgium, for playing five players deemed ineligible in a total of six matches, and 40 for Spain for playing two former French Under-20 French in eight matches.
After all this was factored into a “remodelling” of the qualification process, Russia emerged top to advance to next year’s tournament in Japan at the expense of Romania. Russia now join Ireland, Scotland, Japan in Pool A. A final team will be added following a play-off, with the winners of Germany and Portugal facing Samoa later this summer.
Spain had requested that their qualifier against Belgium, a game officiated by a Romanian, be replayed. Victory for Spain would have given them an automatic place in the World Cup in Japan next year, but Belgium won 18-10 in Brussels to send Romania through instead. At the final whistle Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu was surrounded by infuriated Spanish players.
The Spanish rugby federation had requested before the match that the trio of Romanian officials be replaced, and subsequently cited 19 decisions by the officials which they maintained were unfair to their team in seeking a replay.
In its conclusion to the review, the disputes committee said: “For the detailed reasons set out above: (1) we have not set aside the result of the match on 18 March 2018; and (2) we have found that Belgium, Spain and Romania fielded ineligible players in RWCQ and Rugby European games and determined that each Union should have deducted 5 points for each game in which an ineligible player or players played. We have imposed financial sanctions which are to be suspended for five years.”
World Rugby stated: “While the independent disputes committee has determined that mistakes were not made in bad faith by Rugby Europe and some participating unions, World Rugby is extremely disappointed with the unfortunate and avoidable events, as expressed when announcing the convening of the independent committee.”
“Regulation 8 covering eligibility is essential to maintaining the unique characteristics and culture of elite competitions between unions, and the integrity of international matches depends on strict adherence to eligibility criteria set out in the regulation.”
“In addition, World Rugby has already formally reminded all unions and regional associations of their obligations regarding Regulation 8 and will reiterate at the Annual Meeting of Council this week, while World Rugby will also oversee match official appointments at all stages of future Rugby World Cup qualifiers.”
There is a 14-day window for appeals by all parties.