Los Leones fall foul of eligibility rules for the second World Cup cycle in a row

Spain disqualified from Rugby World Cup 2023

Spain will not be playing in Rugby World Cup 2023 after an independent judicial committee found that they had fielded an ineligible player during qualifying.

In March Spain qualified for Rugby World Cup 2023 after beating Iberian rivals Portugal 33-28, as part of a stellar Rugby Europe Championship (REC) campaign.

However, Romania, who had put themselves into the World Cup qualification repechage by finishing third in the 2021-22 combined REC table, brought a case to World Rugby questioning South Africa-born Gavin van den Berg’s right to pull on the red jersey on residency grounds. A player has to live continuously in a country for 36 consecutive months (now 60) to become eligible to play for them.

The committee was convened to investigate a potential breach of World Rugby’s eligibility regulations and it has found that Spain did field an ineligible player in van den Berg, who featured in two qualification matches for Spain over the two-year cycle.

The sanction imposed includes a deduction of five points for each of the matches he played in (ten points in total) and a fine of £25,000. In terms of RWC 2023 qualification, the points deduction means that Romania move into second spot and will go into Pool B as Europe Two while Portugal move into the repechage.

The above is subject to Spain’s right of appeal, which they have to lodge within 14 days.

The Spanish federation said in a statement that the sanction was “very harsh” and is the result of “an alleged forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport”.

Spain disqualified from Rugby World Cup 2023

Rugby World Features Editor Alan Dymock

We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

In the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2019, Spain looked set to fly through if they could defeat Belgium. But after an ill-tempered match where the conduct of Romanian ref Vlad Iordachescu caused a near riot and the match fell into rank scenes, it also transpired that all three concerned parties had fielded ineligible players anyway. None of Belgium, Spain or Romania could get to Japan.

So how could this be allowed to happen now? Again?

What will sting all the more is that van den Berg only played the Netherlands, a team Spain could have handily beaten without him. And so his selection was for nought. The transgression is rumoured to have been spotted by snooping on social media to check if continual residency was being honoured. And here we are.

The extra, horrible layer of an already rank trifle is that the financial strain on Spain, Portugal and Romania to try to qualify has cost unions a lot. The amounts are said to seriously worry anyone who doesn’t qualify. For Spain today, that meant risking your future only to make the exact same mistakes as four years ago.

Shambles of your own making are always the hardest to countenance.

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