More controversy in World Cup 2019 qualifying process as Tahiti field ineligible players and are replaced by Cook Islands
Cook Islands replace Tahiti in Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying
Cook Islands have replaced Tahiti in the next round of the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process after Tahiti were found to have fielded ineligible players.
The two countries met in a RWC 2019 qualifier on 4 August 2017 in Rarotonga and Tahiti won 13-9 to move through to the next stage – a home-and-away play-off against the winners of the Asia Rugby Championship on 30 June and 7 July this year.
However, World Rugby have since investigated claims that Tahiti fielded ineligible players and they have been found guilty of breaching Regulation 8. The match result has been overturned with Cook Islands determined as the winner.
So Cook Islands will now take part in that Asia-Oceania play-off – the winner of which will progress to the four-team repechage tournament later in the year that will determine the final qualifier for Japan 2019.
Related: World Cup 2019 fixtures
The case, which was heard by independent judicial officer Tim Gresson of New Zealand, centred around Tahiti players Guillaume Brouqui and Andoni Jimenez.
To represent the 15-a-side Test team of a country, players must have been born there, have a parent or grandparent who was born there, or have lived there for 36 consecutive months immediately preceding the time of playing.
Both Brouqui and Jimenez were born in France, and there is no evidence that their parents or grandparents were born in Tahiti.
The two players first represented Tahiti on 6 July 2013 in an Oceania Cup match, but the evidence presented to World Rugby showed that Jimenez had only been residing in the country for 24 months at that point.
Brouqui had returned to France from Tahiti in early 2012 to receive treatment for a back injury and so Gresson stated: “I am comfortably satisfied it has been established he did not complete 36 months of residence immediately preceding when he first represented the union.”
As both players were ineligible to represent Tahiti when they first played for them, they remained ineligible to represent the country. In the game against Cook Islands, scrum-half Brouqui scored a try and fly-half Jimenez a penalty, so they had a significant influence on the result.
The sanctions for this breach of Regulation 8 are the overturning of the result of their match against Cook Islands, who have now been awarded the win, and a fine of £50,000 to the union. The payment of the fine has been suspended for five years provided the union does not commit a further breach of Regulation 8 before 4 August 2022. This is because the fine would have a huge financial impact on the game in Tahiti.
Gresson’s judgement emphasised the importance of the eligibility rules, stating: “Regulation 8 is a cornerstone provision governing the eligibility of players to play international rugby. Unless there is strict compliance with its provisions, the integrity of the game and honest participation at international level would be seriously undermined. Put simply, in terms of the eligibility rules there must be a level playing field.”
In terms of overturning the match result, he added: “Given the breaches which have been committed by the union, to not allow the result to change would not only be unfair to the CIRU (Cook Islands Rugby Union) but would not send a clear and deterrent message to unions that this important core regulation will be upheld and enforced.”
This is the second time in a week that controversy has dogged the RWC 2019 qualification process. On Sunday, there were ugly scenes at the end of Spain’s defeat by Belgium. The result meant it was Romania who automatically qualified and Spanish players reacted angrily towards the Romanian officials at their match – and many have questioned the decision to have a referee with that conflict of interest in charge.
Related: Ugly scenes at Belgium v Spain
There are now just three spots left to be filled at RWC 2019. Spain will play Portugal to determine who will face Samoa in a two-legged play-off this summer, with the winner of that going through as the Play-off Winner in Pool A.
The winner of this year’s Africa Gold Cup – a tournament featuring Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe – will go into Pool B while the runner-up heads into the repechage event.
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