Russia have been handed a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup after Romania and Spain were deducted points for fielding ineligible players during qualification.
Romania had controversially edged Spain to Europe’s final automatic spot, having leapfrogged them on the final day of the Rugby Europe Championship in March following the Spaniards’ contentious defeat in Belgium.
World Rugby had originally intended to make Spain and Belgium replay that match — which was refereed by Romanian Vlad Iordachescu — but following counter-claims of eligibility infractions, commissioned an independent disputes committee to look into the matter.
On Tuesday it was revealed the committee had discovered Spain fielded an ineligible player in eight qualification matches, while both Romania and Belgium did so on six occasions in the two-year process.
The teams have subsequently been deducted five points per offence relating to World Cup qualifying, costing Spain 40 points and Belgium and Romania 30 points each — effectively disqualifying all three. The countries were also handed fines, suspended for five years, of £25,000, £125,000 and £100,000 respectively.
Instead, Russia — who had originally finished third in the combined table nine points adrift of Romania — will take Europe’s final automatic spot in Japan next year, while Germany, who won just two of eight qualification games, will play Portugal in a continental playoff on June 9. The winner of that match will go on to play Samoa in a two-legged tie for a place in Pool A.
The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) signalled its intention to appeal the decision as it called a press conference for Wednesday afternoon.
“The FER, which has 14 days to appeal, is very disappointed with the resolution and is studying whether to, with lawyers to determine and prepare the grounds for an appeal,” an FER statement read.
The delay in making a final decision had been criticised by Samoa as it left the Pacific nation without competition in June, while the playoff will now fall outside of the recognised international window.
World Rugby insisted that players would be released for the two matches, however, and revealed that it would fund the country’s entry into next month’s Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji.
“The rescheduled dates will enable the least-possible disruption for Samoa’s European and Southern Hemisphere based players, who will be released under Regulation 9, which covers all Rugby World Cup qualifiers,” a statement read.