Romania's World Cup place in serious jeopardy
This comes despite World Rugby admitting that they initially believed that a ‘replay’ was in the best interests of the game.
However, information supplied to World Rugby regarding player eligibility has now forced the governing body to reassess Romania’s qualification for the tournament, regardless of the result of the controversial Belgium versus Spain encounter.
A statement mreads: “World Rugby will convene an independent disputes committee to examine issues arising from the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, competitions that doubled as the European qualification process for World Cup 2019.
“World Rugby was deeply concerned about the circumstances surrounding the Belgium versus Spain Rugby Europe Championship match, a match that was decisive in the context of World Cup 2019 qualification. Specifically, concerns related to the process and perception of Rugby Europe’s appointment of a match official team that was not neutral in the context of qualification and failing to act on Spain’s concerns in respect of the appointment.
“While recognising Rugby Europe’s responsibility to review events in their own competition, given the context and significance of the fixture World Rugby acted immediately to request information relating to the above issues from Rugby Europe and participating unions. Having considered all available information, the World Rugby Executive Committee and Rugby World Cup Board felt that a replay would be in the best interests of the game.
“Since expressing that view, new information relating to player eligibility in the Rugby Europe Championship has been presented to World Rugby by the participating unions. Given this information concerns potential breaches of World Rugby regulations, and given the complexity and interconnectivity of the issues, a full and independent review is warranted. This is in the best interests of the sport, teams and fans and is fully supported by Rugby Europe.
“World Rugby’s independent Judicial Panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan QC has been asked to form and convene the disputes committee, as permitted under the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification terms of participation, on an emergency basis in order to achieve certainty as soon as possible.
“A separate independent judicial panel has been appointed by Rugby Europe to consider the conduct of players after the final whistle of the Belgium versus Spain match.”
Rugby Europe told RugbyPass that a decision about the Belgium versus Spain game would only be made once a thorough investigation had taken place.
“There is no deadline defined as long as all points are not checked out and a clear decision can be made.” a spokesperson said.
“Rugby Europe and World Rugby are collaborating in the interest of our sport. The creation of independent dispute committee goes in this way to check all points before stating conclusions and recommendations.”
World Rugby has already overturned a match during the qualification process for the tournament.
Following a formal request from the Cook Islands Rugby Union, World Rugby investigated claims that the Tahiti Rugby Union fielded ineligible players during the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifier against the Cook Islands in Rarotonga on 4 August 2017, a match which Tahiti won 13-9.
That result was overturned and World Rugby directed that the Cook Islands be confirmed as the winner of the match.
Romania qualified for Rugby World Cup 2019 on March 18, but since then the controversy around that qualification has escalated.
Ugly scenes at the final round match between Belgium Spain in the Rugby Europe Championship, where Spanish players surrounded the Romanian referee, Vlad Iordachescu, made headlines across the world. Many then questioned the choice of a Romanian referee in a match that directly affected Romania’s qualification for the Rugby World Cup.
In the driving seat with a game in hand over Romania, Spain needed to defeat Belgium in the final round of European qualification matches to confirm their participation at a Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1999.
However, Belgium raced into a 15-0 lead and, despite a late fightback, Los Leones could not finish the job off, losing 18-10, meaning they will have to face a play-off route which included Portugal and then Samoa.
It was on the final whistle however that Spain’s players surrounded the referee, who had to be protected by the Belgium players before being escorted off the pitch.
Since then question marks have been raised by both sides, and furthermore, the eligibility of at least one Romanian player who played during this year’s tournament has been questioned.
Local media in Russia have queried the fielding of Romania centre Sione Faka’osilea, citing that the Tonga-born centre represented the country of his birth at Sevens.
Faka’osilea, who plays his club rugby in Romania for Baia Mare, has played 13 Tests for the country, notably during the Rugby Europe Championship, which acts as a qualifying tournament for the Rugby World Cup.