The Spanish Rugby Federation has reportedly cited Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand’s use of foreign-born players as evidence of inconsistency in World Rugby’s eligibility rules, as part of its appeal against a second consecutive World Cup ban for fielding an ineligible player during the qualifying rounds.
Spain was banned from taking part in the 2023 World Cup after it emerged that one of its star players during the qualifying stages was ineligible under World Rugby’s international rules.
On 5 May, an independent judicial committee ruled that Spain had breached an eligibility regulation by fielding Gavin van den Berg in two qualification matches. The sanction imposed by the committee included a fine and points deduction meaning Spain had no longer qualified for next year’s World Cup in France.
South African-born prop van den Berg, who has been playing in Spain since 2018, featured in two qualifiers against the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021 but was considered not to have served the necessary three years of residency to become eligible under World Rugby rules.
Van der Berg had spent an extended period of time outside of Spain in his first year there and admitted at a World Rugby hearing that he only considered the country to be his ‘permanent primary home’ for the last two of those three years. It later emerged that his passport had been tampered with by his club without his knowledge.
As things currently stand, Spain has been replaced in next year’s Rugby World Cup by Romania.
Portugal — the team Spain had beaten to seal their place at France 2023 — have taken the spot vacated by Romania in the final qualification event taking place in November.
According to Telegraph Sport, ‘Irish backs James Lowe and Bundee Aki [both New Zealand born], Scottish prop Pierre Schoeman [South African born], and the Tongan-born scrum-half on the cusp of a first All Blacks cap, Folau Fakatava, have all been named as evidence in Spain’s appeal against their World Cup disqualification for fielding an ineligible player, van den Berg’.
A statement from World Rugby on Friday said that a three-strong panel would consider Spain’s appeal, with ‘the hearing date to be confirmed in due course’.
Spain’s furious rugby players had previously responded to their latest expulsion by releasing a statement distancing themselves from ‘all the lies and inefficiency’ of their national federation.
Spain, Romania and Belgium were all sanctioned in 2018 for fielding ineligible players, paving the way for Russia to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.