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Spain kicked out of Rugby World Cup for second time and slapped with huge fine amid allegations over forged passport

Spain have been kicked out of the Rugby World Cup for the second successive tournament for fielding an ineligible player during their qualification campaign. In a further twist, the player in question has been accused of possessing an allegedly forged passport in order to play for the country on residence.

Spain had made it through to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1999 by finishing second, behind Georgia, in the Rugby Europe Championship standings. They were due to play in Pool B alongside holders South Africa, Scotland, Ireland and an Asia/Pacific qualifier in France next autumn.

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But now they have been booted out over an eligibility issue just as it happened ahead of the 2019 tournament in Japan. Romania, who finished third in the Rugby Europe Championship, will take their place in Pool B. It was the Romanian Rugby Union that had filed a complaint against the Spanish, alleging they had used an illegible player, South African-born prop Gavin Van den Berg, during qualifying and a verdict has now been reached.

The statement from World Rugby reads: “An independent judicial committee considering a potential breach of Regulation 8 (eligibility for a national team) has determined that Spain fielded an ineligible player during two Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification matches and has imposed a 10-point deduction and a financial penalty.

“In respect of the sanction, the independent committee, comprising Nigel Hampton QC (Chair), Pamela Woodman and Frank Hadden, imposed the following: The deduction of five points for each of the two matches in which the ineligible player was fielded by the Spanish union (10 points in total).The committee imposed the fixed sanction of £25,000 and noted that a suspended sanction of £50,000 relating to a previous eligibility breach during qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019 would be payable.

“Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain, and Portugal will replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022. Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee.”

Van der Berg played for Spain under the residency rule, which states a player must live in a country for a consecutive period of three years in order to be eligible to play for them at international level. While he apparently had documentation to say this was the case, it has emerged he did not fulfill all the criteria required.

A statement from España Rugby said: “After the oral hearing held this Thursday, April 28, with the independent judicial committee appointed by World Rugby to study the claim of the Romanian Rugby Federation (FRR) on the eligibility of Gavin Van den Berg, the highest body in world rugby has decided to penalize Spain with £25,000 and deduct five points for each of the two games in which this player was lined up.

“While waiting for World Rugby to make the ruling official, this decision means disqualification from the 2023 World Cup in France, a competition for which the XV del León had qualified directly by finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021-2022.

“As this very harsh sanction occurs as a result of an alleged forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport, the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time and will shortly call a press conference to offer all the explanations that are required.”

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