Thursday 19 July 2018

New eligibility claims may give Spain second World Cup shot

Spanish players confront referee Vlad Iordachescu after their defeat against Belgium which dented their World Cup chances. Photo: Getty Images
Spanish players confront referee Vlad Iordachescu after their defeat against Belgium which dented their World Cup chances. Photo: Getty Images

Jack De Menezes

Rugby Europe have delayed their decision on the controversy surrounding the game between Belgium and Spain that led to Romania qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup after new allegations emerged on ineligible players that also involves the German and Russian national teams.

Belgium's 18-10 defeat of Spain on Sunday, March 18 led to outrage from both the Spanish players and rugby union after Vlad Iordachescu, a Romanian referee, was allowed to take charge of the match when it had a direct influence on his homeland's chances of qualifying for Japan 2019.

Iordachescu has faced widespread criticism for his performance and was last week removed from this weekend's European Challenge Cup quarter-final between Pau and Stade Francais due to safety concerns, given Pau's close proximity to the Spanish border. A number of Spanish players also tried to confront Iordachescu after the full-time whistle and chased him from the field of play in scenes that have been widely condemned.

Rugby Europe issued a statement on Monday to confirm that they have delayed making a decision on the matter until at least tomorrow, when their next meeting will take place.

"Rugby Europe Board of Directors held a conference call this evening to share and discuss the elements related to the Spain-Belgium game, Rugby World Cup 2019 Qualifier," Rugby Europe said in a statement.

"Board members unanimously requested additional information (in particular those provided straight ahead of the meeting to World Rugby) before taking an accurate decision."

World Rugby are also awaiting the results of that investigation, with the manner of the referee appointment, the performance of Iordachescu and the Spanish team's reaction all likely to be reviewed.

But the situation has been muddied by World Rugby's decision to disqualify Tahiti from World Cup qualifying for fielding an ineligible player. Having announced the sanction last week, both Romania and Belgium have now been accused of fielding ineligible players during the Rugby Europe Championship in claims that could see them axed from the qualification process.

The Russian Rugby Federation [FRR] has requested a formal investigation into whether Romania fielded an ineligible player against Russia in March 2017. Having qualified for Romania on residential grounds, Sione Faka'osilea made his debut in the Rugby Europe Championship encounter, but it's been claimed that he is bound to the Tonga Rugby Union due to his appearances at the Gold Coast leg of the 2012/'13 Sevens circuit, which under World Rugby Regulation 8 would prevent him from playing for another nation in any format.

"We consider it absolutely unacceptable to blame anyone before a thorough investigation by the competent authorities of Rugby Europe and World Rugby, therefore we will send relevant inquiries to these organisations," the FRR said, having lodged an enquiry with the relevant governing bodies about Faka'osilea's eligibility.

Should World Rugby or Rugby Europe take action against Romania that results in them being disqualified, they will forfeit their place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Spain, who finished third, will be promoted. On top of that, the Germany head coach Pablo Lemoine has claimed that Belgium selected Victor Paquet while he was ineligible. Lemoine appeared in the Rugby Europe Championship match between the two sides earlier this year, coming off the replacements' bench, and he was withdrawn from Belgium's victory over Spain shortly before the match, having been initially named in the side.

If Belgium are found to have broken any rules, they too could face elimination and subsequently have their results ruled void or overturned, which would give Spain the victory it needs to overtake Romania as tournament runners-up and qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The situation should become clearer following the next Rugby Europe meeting tomorrow.

© Independent News Service

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