Spain have been kicked out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup and will be replaced by Romania after it was determined that Los Leones fielded an ineligible player, allegedly with the help of a forged passport, in qualifying. Spain had reached the World Cup for the first time since 1999 after a dramatic win over Portugal in March but have been docked 10 points and dumped out of next year’s tournament in France.
An independent disciplinary panel appointed by World Rugby found that the South Africa-born prop Gavin van den Berg appeared for Spain in two matches, against the Netherlands in 2021 and 2022, without having qualified on residency grounds. The panel ruling that Spain should be docked five points a match and fined £25,000, paving the way for Romania to reach the World Cup and Portugal to advance to November’s repechage qualification tournament.
It is the second consecutive World Cup cycle that has been dogged by problems over ineligible players with Spain also caught up in the controversy surrounding the 2019 tournament. Then, Romania, Spain and Belgium were all found guilty, leading to Russia reaching the World Cup. At the time Spain were given a £50,000 suspended fine which they are now responsible for. Romania join South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and most likely Tonga in pool B at France 2023 with Portugal entering the four-team final qualification tournament.
Romania declares “justice is done” after learning of the decision while the Spanish federation, which has the right to appeal against the outcome, described the verdict as “very harsh” before admitting that it came “as a result of a meaningful forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport”. It is believed that part of the issue centers around how Van den Berg split his time between Spain and South Africa, an issue made more complicated by travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
A statement from the Spanish federation said: “As this very harsh sanction occurs as a result of an meaningful forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport, the Spanish Rugby Federation continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time.”
Meanwhile, in a double fitness boost for Eddie Jones before England’s summer tour of Australia, Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry – both of whom captained the side during the Six Nations – are set to return from injury this weekend. Lawes was described as “Frankenstein’s monster” by Northampton earlier this week because of the gruesome nature of his dislocated thumb but it was feared he may not feature again this season, he comes straight into Saints’ starting against Harlequins on Friday night. Curry sustained a hamstring injury in England’s defeat by Ireland in March but is set for a comeback off the bench in Sale’s clash with Newcastle.