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Prop's forged passport sees Spain kicked out of the 2023 World Cup

By Liam Heagney
Gavin van den Berg (Photo by Oscar J Barroso/Europa Press Sports via Getty Images)

Spain have been thrown out of the 2023 World Cup in France after a disciplinary hearing found that they had played an ineligible player in two recent qualifications games. South African prop Gavin van den Berg had been attached to the Alcobendas club in Spain and he came off the bench in the February Rugby Europe Championship win over the Netherlands.

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He had debuted against the Dutch two months earlier, scoring a try as a replacement in another Rugby Europe Championship. However, after Spain went on to clinch qualification for the finals with a win over Portugal in March to set up pool games in France next year versus Ireland, South Africa, Scotland and another qualifier, an eligibility investigation was launched.

The Spanish rugby federation have now reported they have been fined and deducted ten match points, leaving them finishing much further down the Rugby Europe Championship table and out of the World Cup qualification positions.

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A statement on the Spanish federation’s website read: “After the oral hearing held this Thursday, April 28, with the independent judicial committee appointed by World Rugby to study the claim of the Romanian Rugby Federation (FRR) on the eligibility of Gavin van den Berg, the highest body in world rugby has decided to penalise Spain with a £25,000 fine and deduct five points for each of the two games in which this player lined out.

“While waiting for World Rugby to make the ruling official, this decision means disqualification from the 2023 World Cup in France, a competition for which the XV del León had qualified directly by finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021-2022.

“As this very harsh sanction occurs as a result of an alleged forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport, the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time and will shortly call a press conference to offer all the explanations that are required.”

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Spain were due to kick off their World Cup pool schedule in Bordeaux versus the Irish and the Springboks before moving on to Lille to play their other two matches.

A World Rugby statement added: “An independent judicial committee considering a potential breach of regulation eight (eligibility for a national team) has determined that Spain fielded an ineligible player during two Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification matches and has imposed a ten-point deduction and a financial sanction.

“In respect of the sanction, the independent committee, comprising Nigel Hampton (chair), Pamela Woodman and Frank Hadden, imposed the following:

  • The deduction of five points for each of the two matches in which the ineligible player was fielded by the Spanish union (ten points in total);
  • World Rugby regulation eight stipulates mandatory financial penalties for breaches of the regulation. The committee imposed the fixed sanction of £25,000 and noted that a suspended sanction of £50,000 relating to a previous eligibility breach during qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019 would be payable.

“Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the ten-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain, and Portugal will replace Romania in the final qualification tournament in November 2022. Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee.”

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