World Cup controversy Pt 2: Romania disqualified & Spain demoted
There’s been a bitter twist in the tail to the story of Spain’s controversial clash with Belgium in the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers that Behind the Ruck covered a few weeks ago – see here
That match had ended in an 18-10 victory for hosts Belgium, a result that sent Romania to the World Cup, and forced Spain through the circuitous route of play-offs against Portugal and then Samoa, if they were to reach Japan next year as well.
The fly in that particular ointment, was the fact that the game was officiated by an all-Romanian refereeing team. As a result, a number of questionable calls during the match led to some pretty unsavoury scenes at full-time, as an irate Spanish side surrounded, harangued and in some cases, chased the referee from the field, amid cries of foul play.
Those cries didn’t fall on deaf ears, as a World Rugby investigation found that the Romanian officials involved were not biased, but gave the appearance of bias, and therefore ruled the match be replayed. However, an independent committee then declined that request for a replay by World Rugby and Spain, because the ‘appearance of bias’ was not enough to overturn the result.
But even this entire series of events was put into the shade by what happened next.
A further investigation by World Rugby found that Romania, Spain and Belgium, had all fielded ineligible players in seven to nine games in the Rugby Europe Championship, which also acted as a qualifying competition for next year’s World Cup.
Sione Faka’osilea was ineligible for Romania; Mathieu Belie and Bastien Fuster for Spain; and five players in total for Belgium, because they had previously played for national teams that tied them to countries of their birthplace, or they weren’t qualified by heritage.
As a result of these indiscretions, all three countries had points deducted, which in turn promoted Russia into the World Cup in place of Romania. They will compete in Pool A alongside Ireland, Scotland and hosts Japan, in what is their first appearance at the game’s showpiece since 2011. Conversely, Japan 2019 will be the first time Romania will not be competing at a Rugby World Cup.
Spain’s demotion handed second place to Germany, who now take on Portugal for the right to meet Samoa in a final play-off decider.
World Rugby also handed out fines – suspended for five years – of $220,00 to Belgium, $176,000 to Romania, and $88,000 to Spain.
“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,” the game’s governing body said in a statement.
World Rugby also said it will oversee the appointments of all future match officials in Rugby World Cup qualifiers.