Russia qualify for Rugby World Cup after penalizations

Reuters, LONDON

Thu, May 17, 2018 - Page 16

Russia have qualified for next year’s Rugby World Cup after Romania — who had initially secured the slot — Spain and Belgium were docked points for repeatedly using ineligible players during the qualifying competition, World Rugby said on Tuesday.

After a “remodeling” of the qualification process, Russia emerged top to advance to next year’s tournament in Japan. It will be their second appearance following 2011 in New Zealand, when they lost all four pool games.

Germany, who have never been in a World Cup, now have another chance, as they are promoted to face Portugal in a playoff, although the winners face a daunting final step with a two-legged playoff against Samoa.

The winner on aggregate is to qualify for Japan 2019 in Pool A, alongside the hosts, Ireland, Scotland and Russia.

The loser would still have a chance of progress via the Repechage competition in November.

The announcement is the latest twist to a complicated and controversial series of matches as, following an investigation by the independent Judicial and Disputes Committee, the three nations were docked five match points for each ineligible player used.

Belgium were found to have fielded five ineligible players and were docked 30 points along with a suspended fine of £125,000 (US$168,749).

Spain used Mathieu Belie and Bastien Fuster, both of whom played for France Under-20s, in eight qualification matches, leading to a 40-point deduction and a £50,000 suspended fine.

Romania had only one ineligible player, Sione Faka’osilea, who previously played for Tonga Sevens. They were given a £100,000 suspended fine and their 30 docked points overturned their World Cup qualification.

All the decisions are subject to appeal within 14 days and Romania said they would seek to overturn the ruling.

“The Romanian Rugby Federation cannot accept a decision in which teams that knowingly violate regulations or ignorance are treated identically to those who comply with all procedural steps required,” it said in a statement.

Spain’s initial appeal to replay their match against Belgium — when a Romanian referee was in charge and Spain’s shock defeat sent Romania through — was rejected, despite the sport’s governing body supporting it.

The Spanish Rugby Federation said they were disappointed by the decisions, having sought clearance for Belie and Fuster from their French counterparts, and were considering an appeal.

“It should be recognized that the [eligibility] rule is confusing and World Rugby should have created a procedure and created a system to avoid these type of undesirable situations from happening,” the federation said in a statement.

However, the Russian Rugby Federation released a statement saying the sanctions were fair.