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New evidence could sway deliberations in Spain World Cup decision

A decision regarding Spain’s banishment from the Rugby World Cup could be confirmed in the next 24 hours, RugbyPass understands, and mounting evidence suggesting the ineligible player at the center of the furore, Gavid van den Berg, was well aware of the requirements to play international rugby could work in the Spanish Federation’s favour.

Having finished in second place over the past two years’ worth of European qualification tournaments, Spain were awarded a spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Pool B alongside the likes of South Africa, Ireland and Scotland in March.

After it was discovered that van den Berg, a reserve prop who Spain has fielded in two sizeable wins over the Netherlands, was not eligible to play test rugby for Los Leons, however, the team were stripped of their points from the fixtures and fell to fourth on the overall table – which saw them drop out of the qualifying race. At the time the punishment was announced by World Rugby, the committee concluded that Van den Berg had not deliberately misled the Spanish union, which was determined as a key factor in why there was little respite for Spain.

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RugbyPass has received evidence, however, that confirms the South African-born front-rower was indeed aware of the eligibility requirements, and was involved in the process to alter his passport copies, which could prove significant in Spain’s appeal to have their place in the World Cup reinstated.

The official hearing was held on 16 June and World Rugby’s appeals committee has been deliberating over their sizeable decision for the better part of the past week.

RugbyPass understands that some of the major points of discussion throughout the appeal include Van den Berg’s justification for spending so much time outside of Spain during the first of his three years of qualification (and whether this constituted ‘exceptional circumstance’) and whether, given the circumstances , the 10-point penalty handed to Los Leones was appropriate for the breach in the laws.

In previous cases where eligibility laws have been violated, such as during the ‘Grannygate’ scandal of the early 2000s, the punishments were relatively insignificant – certainly not on the same level as effectively disqualifying a side from taking part in the Rugby World Cup.

Further, the appeals committee must also weigh up whether the collective effort of the entirety of the Spanish squad – as well as the various coaches, administrative and support stuff behind the team – should be so significantly penalized for the acts of one individual.

As a non-Spanish-born player, Van den Berg was only eligible to play for Spain if he had qualified through 36 months of consecutive residency in the Iberian nation. Throughout that residence period, no more than two months a year could be spent outside the country, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Although Van den Berg had spent three years living in Spain before his first test cap in 2021, he was found by World Rugby’s initial investigation to have not been based in the country for at least 10 months in each of those 12-month cycles (he spent 127 days offshore in his first year) – despite originally being cleared to play for Los Leones by both the Spanish Federation and World Rugby themselves after copies of his passport had been edited.

Having featured only in two blowout matches won at a canter by Los Leones, Van den Berg’s impact on Spain’s results throughout their qualification process was negligible at best.

If Spain’s appeal were to be upheld – and the punishment reduced – they could qualify for their first World Cup since 1999.

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