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World Rugby orders full review of Rugby Europe refereeing and eligibility mess

An independent committee will be formed on an emergency basis.

WORLD RUGBY WILL convene an independent committee on an emergency basis in order to carry out a full review into the highly-controversial issues surrounding the Rugby Europe Championship.

The findings of that committee could lead to a replay of the Belgium v Spain fixture, which has been a hot topic in the global game since last month.

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

The review could also potentially lead to nations having results in the Rugby Europe Championship overturned if they are found to have fielded ineligible players.

The 2017 and 2018 versions of the Rugby Europe Championship – the next tier of European Test rugby below the Six Nations – doubled up as the European qualification process for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Spain had been on the verge of qualifying into Pool A of the World Cup alongside Ireland after an excellent run of results, and only needed a win against Belgium in their final fixture of this year’s Rugby Europe Championship to secure that spot.

However, Spain suffered a shock 18-10 defeat to Belgium last month, after which their players rounded on the Romanian referee, Vlad Iordachescu, whom they perceived to have been excessively and deliberately harsh on them.

Spain’s defeat meant that Romania qualified for the World Cup instead and it emerged that the Spanish rugby federation had asked Rugby Europe to remove the all-Romanian match officials team for their clash with Belgium weeks before the game took place, essentially arguing a conflict of interests.

Rugby Europe, rather than World Rugby, appoint all match officials for the Rugby Europe Championship.

Since the Belgium v Spain game, which has led to fervent calls for a replay from Spain and elsewhere, there has been further controversy surrounding the Rugby Europe Championship.

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

Accusations of fielding ineligible players have been made against Spain, Belgium and Romania in recent weeks.

The Russian Rugby Federation [FRR] requested an investigation into whether Romania had played an ineligible player against them in the 2017 championship.

Sione Faka’osilea had seemingly qualified for Romania on residency grounds but he had previously appeared for his native Tonga in international sevens rugby.

Elsewhere, Germany head coach Pablo Lemoine suggested that Belgium had brought hooker Victor Paquet off the bench against Germany, despite him being ineligible.

And Spain have faced accusations of fielding at least one ineligible player in the shape of Mathieu Bélie, who previously played for the France U20s against Wales U20s in 2008, when those two age-grade teams were their respective unions’ nominated second teams and may, therefore, have tied all players involved to the nation they represented.

It is, therefore, a very messy situation for World Rugby and Rugby Europe.

World Rugby last month overturned Tahiti’s World Cup qualifying win over the Cook Islands in August 2017 due to their having fielded two ineligible players.

That decision essentially disqualified Tahiti from the 2019 World Cup qualification process, with the Cook Islands instead progressing into the next round of qualification, where they will take on the winner of the 2018 Asia Rugby Championship on a home-and-away basis.

A statement from World Rugby today indicates that having reviewed the Belgium v Spain fixture, the governing body “felt that a replay would be in the best interests of the game.”

The Webb Ellis trophy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, in light of the further controversy around eligibility, World Rugby say that “a full and independent review is warranted” and that their independent Judicial Panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan QC will now form a committee to carry that out.

World Rugby’s statement also indicates that a separate independent judicial panel has been formed by Rugby Europe in order to “consider conduct” of the players after the final whistle of Spain’s defeat to Belgium last month.

The World Rugby statement in full reads:

“World Rugby will convene an independent disputes committee to examine issues arising from the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, competitions that doubled as the European qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019.

“World Rugby was deeply concerned about the circumstances surrounding the Belgium versus Spain Rugby Europe Championship match, a match that was decisive in the context of Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification. Specifically, concerns related to the process and perception of Rugby Europe’s appointment of a match official team that was not neutral in the context of qualification and failing to act on Spain’s concerns in respect of the appointment.

“While recognising Rugby Europe’s responsibility to review events in their own competition, given the context and significance of the fixture World Rugby acted immediately to request information relating to the above issues from Rugby Europe and participating unions. Having considered all available information, the World Rugby Executive Committee and Rugby World Cup Board felt that a replay would be in the best interests of the game.

“Since expressing that view, new information relating to player eligibility in the Rugby Europe Championship has been presented to World Rugby by the participating unions. Given this information concerns potential breach of World Rugby regulations and given the complexity and interconnectivity of the issues, a full and independent review is warranted. This is in the best interests of the sport, teams and fans and is fully supported by Rugby Europe.

“World Rugby’s independent Judicial Panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan QC has been asked to form and convene the disputes committee, as permitted under the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification terms of participation, on an emergency basis in order to achieve certainty as soon as possible.

“A separate independent judicial panel has been appointed by Rugby Europe to consider conduct of the players after the final whistle of the Belgium versus Spain match.”

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Murray Kinsella

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