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Spain cry foul over Romanian ref after Rugby World Cup qualifier defeat

Spain failed to secure automatic qualification for the 2019 rugby World Cup on Sunday, losing to Belgium 18-10 with their players rounding on the Romanian referee who had to be escorted off the pitch.

Spain cry foul over Romanian ref after Rugby World Cup qualifier defeat
Spain's players react against the referee during the rugby union match between the Black Devils. Photo: AFP

Spain's defeat meant it was Romania and not them who secured direct passage to the finals in Japan and in a curious twist that angered the Spaniards the referee, Vlad Iordachescu, was Romanian.

Social media was quick to hint at dark conspiracy theories given the nationality of the man overseeing a qualifier involving a team in direct competition with his country's own World Cup bid.

And Spanish rugby federation president Alfonso Feijoo was in no doubt where the blame lay for Spain's shock defeat.    

“Everyone who has seen the game will judge the referee. He gave 10 penalties against us, the result comes from that,” he posted on Twitter before the federation went on to lodge a formal complaint.

Spain's coach Santiago Santos was equally furious.

“Our game was stopped continuously, the Belgians benefited from many more decisions,” he said after struggling to calm down his incensed players at the final whistle with even the Belgian players coming to Iordachescu's rescue.    

Later Sunday, the Spanish Rugby Federation said they had lodged a formal complaint to Rugby Europe and World Rugby.    

“We have lodged a complaint with the European federation, with a copy sent to the international federation, for the refereeing commission to review the video of the match and judge whether the refereeing was deliberately in favour of Romania,” said a statement from the Spanish body. “And if so, to act accordingly.”    

Spanish back Brad Linklater pointed to the “Belgian aggression and irregular tackling that went unpunished” by the man in the middle who was appointed by Rugby Europe.

Linklater did go on to acknowledge that his side “had not produced their best rugby”.

Play-off ticket

A second guaranteed appearance in the rugby showpiece 20 years after their debut was within Spain's reach as they had routed Belgium at home earlier in the European group phase.

But a loss in a match they had to win, meant Romania and not the Spanish Lions secured direct passage to the finals in Japan.

The Santos-coached side still have a chance of qualifying through the play-offs.   

They next face Portugal with the winner going on to play Samoa in a two-legged play-off for a ticket to join hosts Japan, Grand Slam champions Ireland, Scotland, and the Romanians in Pool A.

Spain came unstuck against Belgium's “best possible team” according to the host side's captain Jens Torfs.

Belgian coach Guillaume Ajac, who had fielded an inexperienced team in their away tie, recalled some established stars.   

And the move paid off. Vincent Hart kicked them into a 12-0 lead at the break as their visitors at times appeared paralysed by the enormity of the occasion.

Spain put themselves back in the game with a try from Charly Malie in the 70th minute and a penalty 10 minutes from time but with a late penalty Belgium held on to spark anger among the Spaniards who turned their ire on the referee.   

For Romania, the outcome in Brussels extended their record of competing at every World Cup since its inception in 1987, topping the table by three points from Spain.

SPORT

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

Spain have been thrown out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup for fielding an ineligible South African-born player during the qualifying stages and will be replaced by Romania, World Rugby announced on Thursday.

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

“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,” read the statement.

Portugal — who Spain beat to seal their place in the global showpiece in France next year — replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament taking place in November 2022.

“Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee,” read the statement.

According to Spanish media in March, the player under investigation was South African-born prop Gavin van den Berg, who has been playing in Spain since 2018.

He played twice against the Netherlands, in 2020 and 2021, in qualifiers, but he may not seemingly have served the three years of residency needed to become eligible under World Rugby rules.

Spain, Romania and Belgium were all sanctioned in 2018 for having fielded ineligible players, opening the way for Russia to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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