Expulsions give Russia surprise slot at Rugby World Cup

LONDON • Russia have been awarded a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan after World Rugby sensationally disqualified Spain, Romania and Belgium, the sport's governing body said on Tuesday.

Russia finished third in European qualifying but will head to the tournament after Romania, who originally won the section, second-placed Spain and fourth-placed Belgium were all docked points for fielding ineligible players.

All the decisions are subject to appeal within 14 days and Romania said they would seek to overturn the independent disputes committee's ruling relating to the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships that doubled as 2019 Rugby World Cup qualification events.

The controversy kicked off when Spain's rugby federation (FER) demanded a rematch of their 10-18 loss to Belgium, which ultimately allowed Romania to qualify at their expense for next year's showpiece in Japan. It pointed to several errors by Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu in the Brussels clash.

World Rugby then set up a disputes committee to examine the complaint. But instead of acceding to the Spaniards' demands, it revealed that Spain, Belgium and Romania had all fielded ineligible players during qualifying matches for the World Cup.

For Spain, it found that two players were ineligible, having appeared for the France Under-20 side. The duo played in eight qualifiers, meaning Spain were docked 40 points, five for every match an ineligible player appeared in.

In Romania's case, the review found that centre Sione Faka'osilea played in six matches despite having represented Tonga and the team were docked 30 points.

For Belgium, the committee found five players who were ineligible but had played in six qualification matches. Neither the players, nor their parents or grandparents had been born in Belgium. They too were docked 30 points.

It meant that Russia won the group despite winning only half of their eight matches, while Germany who lost six of theirs, were second and head into the play-offs. All three sanctioned teams were fined from £50,000 (S$90,000) to £125,000.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Expulsions give Russia surprise slot at Rugby World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe