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Russia to join Ireland's RWC Pool as ruling made on Rugby Europe debacle

Spain, Romania and Belgium were all hit with sanctions for fielding ineligible players.

THE INDEPENDENT DISPUTES committee appointed by World Rugby to review the controversial Rugby Europe competition has ruled that Russia will now take a place at the 2019 World Cup.

Spain were on the verge of taking the top European qualification berth via the Rugby Europe Championship and needed only a win over Belgium in their final fixture in March to secure passage.

Belgium v Spain - Rugby World Cup 2019 Europe Qualifier Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos

However, the match came under scrutiny first for the appointment of Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu, and then for the angry protests from Spain’s players as they lost 18-0 to Belgium – a result which put Romania in the World Cup.

Subsequently, five Spanish players were banned for their part in the post-match rows. They, along with Belgium and Russia, were accused of fielding ineligible players.

The committee’s ruling today states that the appointment of officials “were not made in bad faith by Rugby Europe” and declined to overturn the result of Belgium’s win over Spain.

It would have been much better for the game if Rugby Europe had, once the mathematics of the final matches of the competition become clear, changed the match officials. That, however, is a very long way from saying that the Panel should overturn the result once it had been played and we have declined to do so.”

Though Spain contested the eligibility charge weighed against them, the committee concluded that they were “satisfied that World Rugby’s submissions on the fielding of ineligible players by Spain are correct”.

In the case of Romania, the committee said the union could have taken more steps to inquire as to the relevant player’s eligibility with World Rugby.

Ronan O'Gara hands off Andrey Garbuzov Ronan O'Gara in action against Russia in the 2011 World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The upshot is that Belgium and Romania have been hit with a 30-point deduction and Spain with a 40-point deduction. The unions have 14 days to appeal.

The sanctions moved Russia up to second place in the Rugby Europe Championship – behind already-qualified Georgia – and put Germany into a play-off with Portugal. The winner will play Samoa in a World Cup play-off for the right to join Ireland’s Pool A at Japan 2019.

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Sean Farrell

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