Russia has been handed a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup after Romania was ejected as part of sanctions also imposed on Spain and Belgium for rule-breaking during the controversial European qualification tournament for next year’s event in Japan.
World Rugby’s independent Judicial and Disputes committee investigated complaints in relation to the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship and found that Belgium, Spain and Romania fielded ineligible players. Each team has been fined and deducted five championship points for each game in which an ineligible player or players participated.
Romania had previously qualified in the ‘Europe 1’ slot for the World Cup after finishing above Spain in the Rugby Europe Championship following the latter nation’s controversial defeat against Belgium on the final weekend of the competition.
That game on March 18 sparked an appeal from Spain, supported by World Rugby, to replay the match amid concerns over Rugby Europe’s apparent appointment of a match official team that was not neutral in the context of qualification. This request was rejected by the panel, but subsequent complaints from the federations over potential player eligibility breaches led to a full independent review.
Belgium was ruled to have fielded five ineligible players across six matches in the Rugby Europe Championship, leading to deduction of 30 points and a suspended fine of £125,000 (€142,000/$170,000). Spain was found to have fielded two ineligible players during eight qualification matches, leading to a 40-point deduction and a suspended £50,000 fine.
Romania was ruled to have one ineligible player, Sione Faka’osilea who had previously played for Tonga Sevens. He played in six qualification matches, leading to a 30-point deduction and a suspended £100,000 fine. All three fines will be liable to be paid in full if further breaches are made over the next five years.
The sanctions mean that Russia replaces Romania as the ‘Europe 1’ team in Pool A for Japan 2019, and is now set to face Ireland, Scotland and the host nation in the group stages. Spain has also lost its second place in qualification to Germany, meaning that the latter nation will now face Portugal in a European play-off for the right to play Samoa and potentially claim the ‘Play-off Winner’ spot in Pool A of the World Cup.
The Romanian Rugby Federation (FRR) has stated its intention to appeal the ruling. In a lengthy statement it said: “The Romanian Rugby Federation cannot accept a decision in which teams that knowingly violate regulations or are ignorant are treated identically to those who comply with all procedural steps required. Participation in the Rugby World Cup must not be concluded by such a decision.”
World Rugby added in a statement: “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, as expressed when announcing the convening of the independent committee.
“The committee's decision and findings clearly demonstrate issues with the processes adopted by some of the participating unions relating to the eligibility of players as well as the delivery and organisation of the Rugby Europe Championship.”