Spain have referenced Ireland’s Bundee Aki and James Lowe in their appeal to World Rugby over a player eligibility issue which saw them kicked out of the Rugby World Cup.
After defeating Portugal in the Rugby Europe Championship in March, Spain qualified for their first Rugby World Cup since 1999 and were set to take their place in Pool B in next year’s tournament in France.
However, after it emerged that South African-born Gavin van der Berg’s passport had been tampered with by his club without his knowledge, World Rugby deemed that he was not eligible to play for Spain.
Spain were deducted five points for each of the games Van der Berg played in, two comfortable victories against the Netherlands, and have missed out on World Cup qualification as a result.
Spain are appealing their Rugby World Cup expulsion.
Spain are appealing this decision however, and The Telegraph have revealed that the country’s rugby officials have cited Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand’s use of foreign-born players as proof of inconsistencies in World Rugby’s player eligibility rules.
Foreign-born players who started living and playing in a country before 2021 must have done so for three years before being eligible to represent their adopted country (those who moved to a country since 2021 must do so for five years).
Van der Berg had been living in Spain for three years, but spent an extended period of time outside of the country in his first year there and admitted at a World Rugby hearing that he only considered Spain to be his “permanent primary home” for the last two of those three years.
The judiciary committee also noted that an Instagram post in which Van der Berg referred to himself as a “Saffa” was not insignificant. Although that is not the primary reason he was deemed as ineligible, this has irritated Spanish rugby officials.
Qui prendra les 4 dernières places restantes ?
— Rugby World Cup France 2023 (@France2023) March 22, 2022
Bundee Aki and James Lowe have been cited in the appeal.
New Zealand-born Ireland duo Bundee Aki and James Lowe have both been cited in Spain’s appeal, as the former said in 2016 that it would be “wrong for me to say I am Irish” while the latter said in 2019 that it is “weird that I could be Irish, isn’t it?”
Both have since gone on to play for Ireland, with Aki winning his first cap in 2017, while Lowe first played for his adopted country in 2020.
Scotland’s South African-born prop Pierre Schoeman has also been cited, as he said earlier this month that it was “tough being away from home” during his first year in Scotland.
Tongan-born scrum-half Folau Fakatava has also been referenced after he was recently cleared by World Rugby to play for New Zealand following confusion regarding his eligibility, despite having lived in the country for over five years.