Russia have been awarded a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan after World Rugby sensationally disqualified Spain, Romania and Belgium, the rugby union international governing body said on Tuesday.
Russia had finished third in European qualifying for the World Cup but 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.
“World Rugby notes the outcome of the independent disputes committee review into matters relating to the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, competitions that doubled as a Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification event,” said a statement issued on Tuesday.
“In line with the decision, Russia will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019 as Europe 1, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the play-off winner in Pool A, while Germany will progress to the European play-off with Portugal, subject to the appeals process.”
The controversy kicked off when Spain’s rugby federation (FER) demanded a rematch of their loss to Belgium, which ultimately allowed Romania to qualify at their expense for next year’s showpiece in Japan.
World Rugby set up a disputes committee to examine Spain’s complaints.
But instead of vilifying the Spaniards, the committee revealed that Spain, Belgium and Romania had all fielded ineligible players during qualifying matches for the World Cup.
Subsequently, Spain were docked 40 points with Romania and Belgium penalised 30 each — five points for every match in which an ineligible player appeared.
It meant that Russia won the group despite winning only half of their eight qualification 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 to £125,000.
World Rugby said it is “extremely disappointed with the unfortunate and avoidable events” and added: “Regulation 8 covering eligibility is essential to maintaining the unique characteristics and culture of elite competitions between unions, and the integrity of international matches depends on strict adherence to eligibility criteria set out in the regulation.
“The committee’s decision and findings clearly demonstrate issues with the processes adopted by some of the participating unions relating to the eligibility of players as well as the delivery and organisation of the Rugby Europe Championship.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)