Next year’s Rugby World Cup has already been brought into the spotlight this week, a year ahead of the tournament’s kick-off.
Many may have seen the Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, mixing up Rugby Union and Rugby League in a press conference ahead of their World Cup this summer. That helped bring the fact the Rugby Union World Cup, held in France in 2023, is imminent. However, it isn’t going to be of interest to one European country, which has already been disqualified.
Spain has been found guilty of fielding an illegal player in two qualifying games and has had five points taken from each game he appeared in. Gavin Van den Berg, a South African-born prop, did not complete the requirements of three years consecutive residency in Spain, as he returned to South Africa for longer than is allowed during the off-season. That effectively made him ineligible to play for Spain.
Their opponents, Romania, lodged a complaint, which The Scotsman reports has been successfully upheld by World Rugby after Spain appealed the original decision.
“The Independent Appeal Committee reviewed the original decision of the Independent Judicial Committee based on the evidence that was before it,” a statement from World Rugby confirmed. “In accordance with World Rugby regulations, the decision of the Independent Appeal Committee is final and binding with no further right to appeal.
“With respect to Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 European qualification table by the Independent Judicial Committee stands, meaning that Romania qualifies as Europe 2 into Pool B, replacing Spain, and Portugal replaces Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022.”
Romania goes to France 2023 as huge underdogs, but that won’t matter. They’re rated as rank outsiders in the latest Coral odds, alongside the likes of Georgia, Italy, Namibia and Uruguay. However, that won’t faze former Bath player Andy Robinson, Romania’s current coach. His team will be delighted to have gained revenge over Spain after the 2019 competition. Back then, the boot was on the other foot; Romania qualified for the tournament, but a complaint by Spain saw them excluded, meaning they missed their first World Cup since the tournament began in 1987.
Ironically, Spain was also excluded from that tournament; they complained about the conduct of two other countries and hoped for a reprieve after losing a crucial qualifier but were sanctioned, alongside Belgium and Romania. Russia went to Japan in 2019 instead but lost every game and scored just 19 points in four outings.
In 2023, Romania will take their place in Pool B, where they’ll face Scotland, South Africa, Ireland and an as-yet unconfirmed Asia/Pacific qualifier. Ireland has already sparked talk that they could be genuine contenders for the tournament after a resounding 29-20 win against the All-Blacks in November. They also secured the Triple Crown in this year’s Six Nations and will be formidable opponents for the reprieved Romania, a team that has never emerged from the pool stage, despite appearing in eight tournaments.
Host France is the favourite for the World Cup, having won the Six Nations this year, joint with New Zealand. The All-Blacks have won three tournaments, including back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2015. France, hosting the competition for the second time (third if you count the 1991 tournament hosted by five nations), has appeared in the final three times but has never won. England, third favourites, are the only European nation to have won a tournament, lifting the coveted Webb Ellis Cup in Australia in 2003.