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World Rugby to act after Japan 2019 qualification fiasco

World Rugby has announced it will undertake a wide-ranging review process after its Independent Disputes Committee upheld sanctions handed out for rule-breaking during the controversial European qualification tournament for the 2019 World Cup, punishments which saw Romania removed from next year’s event in Japan.

Romania and Spain last month lodged appeals as World Rugby’s independent Judicial and Disputes committee ruled on complaints in relation to the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship and found that Belgium, Spain and Romania fielded ineligible players. Each team was 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.

The sanctions meant that Russia replaced 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 also lost its second place in qualification to Germany, meaning that the latter nation will now face Portugal on June 16 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.

In a statement, World Rugby said it “welcomed” the conclusion of the independent disciplinary process, adding it is “determined” to avoid a repeat of these “unfortunate circumstances”.

World Rugby will now undertake a full review of eligibility processes operational within the game with the objective of ensuring universal best-practice and compliance. This will involve World Rugby overseeing match official appointments at all stages of future World Cup qualifiers, not just the matches that it runs.

World Rugby is also undertaking a full review of Rugby Europe tournament delivery in the context of World Cup qualification in partnership with the regional association.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont (pictured) said: “While World Rugby welcomes the conclusion of the independent disputes process, it is important that the game learns from what were an unfortunate set of circumstances to prevent this from happening again, and I am committed to leading a review that will deliver a robust and efficient system of ensuring compliance. 

“With the full support of our unions and regional associations, World Rugby will undertake a full review of Regulation 8 process and compliance to enhance best practice, identify how we can further assist our unions, ensure our young players are appropriately educated on the regulation, and have complete oversight and approval of match official appointments for future Rugby World Cup qualifiers.”