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2019 Rugby World Cup qualification chaos continues as Romania and Spain fight bans

By Online Editors

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Romania and Spain have not given up their fight to play in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with World Rugby confirming both teams have lodged appeals against the sanction handed-down by the independent Disputes Committee who investigated the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship which acted as qualification for the World Cup.

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Belgium, who were also kicked out of qualifying, are yet to appeal the sanction with the deadline set for today to do so.

In a statement World Rugby said “Formal submissions were received by World Rugby in accordance with the Appeal Committee’s directions.

“On 15 May, an independent Disputes Committee found that Belgium, Romania and Spain had breached World Rugby Regulation 8 by fielding players who were either ineligible to represent them or previously captured by another union. The Independent Disputes Committee issued competition points penalties as well as suspended fines.

“While admitting to a breach of World Rugby Regulation 8 relating to fielding an ineligible player who was previously captured by another union, Romania has confirmed that it is appealing the sanction.

“Spain is appealing the decision of the independent Disputes Committee which: (i) decided that the match between Belgium versus Spain should not be replayed; and (ii) found that two ineligible players were fielded during the European Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process.

“The appeal will be heard on 1 June by an independent Appeals Committee comprising of World Rugby’s independent Judicial Panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan QC (chair), former USA international and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Phaidra Knight and chair of the EPCR Independent Disciplinary Panel Mike Hamlin.”

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Heavy fines totalling over a quarter of a million pounds were issued to the three countries.

If Romania and Spain are unsuccessful in their appeals Russia will play in the 2019 World Cup as Europe 1, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the play-off winner in Pool A.

Germany would go into the European play-off with Portugal.

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The independent Judicial and Disputes committee looked into the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, which acts as a qualifying event for the World Cup and found that Belgium, Spain and Romania fielded ineligible players and ruled that each team be deducted five championship points for each game in which an ineligible player or players participated.

The committee, comprising Sir James Dingemans, Sir Peter Fraser and Lex Mpati, also looked at the controversial Belgium versus Spain game after complaints over the appointment of a Romanian referee and accusations of bias.

In a statement they said: “In respect of the Belgium versus Spain match result, having considered all the evidence, including submissions from World Rugby, Rugby Europe, Spain and Belgium, the independent committee refused the request made by World Rugby and Spain to set aside the result of the match and determined that the match should not be replayed.”

Ugly scenes during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Europe Qualifier match between Belgium and Spain held at Little Heysel next to King Baudouin Stadium on March 18, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.

When it came to the eligibility issues, the independent commission which looked at evidence including statements and submissions from World Rugby, Rugby Europe, Belgium, Romania, Spain and Russia. Their conclusion was the following:

  • Belgium had fielded one or more ineligible players on 7 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
  • Romania has fielded one ineligible player on 8 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
  • Spain had fielded one or more ineligible players on 9 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 8 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying.

In respect of the sanctions, pursuant to Regulation 18, the independent committee determined the following:

  • The deduction of 5 points for any match in which a union fielded an ineligible player (40-point deduction for Spain, and a 30-point deduction for both Belgium and Romania). Therefore, based on a re-modelling of the Rugby Europe Championship tables in the context of Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying, Russia would qualify as Europe 1 into Pool A replacing Romania, and Germany would replace Spain in the European play-off against Portugal
  • World Rugby Regulation 8 stipulates mandatory financial penalties for breaches of £25,000 per ineligible player for a union not represented on the World Rugby Council and £100,000 for a union represented on Council. Therefore, the following financial sanctions will be applied, suspended for a period of five years conditional that no breaches occur during that period:
  • Belgium: £125,000 GBP (at a rate of £25,000 for a union not on Council x 5 ineligible players)
  • Romania: £100,000 GBP (at a rate of £100,000 for a union on Council x 1 player)
  • Spain: £50,000 GBP (at a rate of £25,000 for a union not on Council x 2 ineligible players)

The Independent disputes committee said although mistakes were made by Rugby Europe and participating unions, they had not acted in bad faith. The committee also recommended that World Rugby re-emphasise the importance and sanctity of Regulation 8 and any other steps that will prevent a repeat of these circumstances. That was because it was desirable to take any steps which avoided the risks of qualification being determined off the pitch.

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