The Rugby Europe qualification process for the 2019 World Cup has descended into bizarre circumstances after an independent committee rejected Spain's appeal for a replay against Belguim. In a further blow, Spain, as well as Belguim and Romania, have been docked points resulting in Russia's qualification.
Spain originally missed out on an automatic qualification place for the Rugby World Cup in controversial circumstances after they suffered a shock 18-10 loss away to Belgium in the Rugby Europe Championship.
The Spanish players were extremely unhappy with the standard of officiating during the game and swarmed the Romanian referee after the final whistle. The result had meant Romania would progress, with Georgia already qualified from Europe's tier two tournament.
World Rugby had asked for the game to be replayed, pending an investigation into the eligibility of players. Today the independent committee deemed three teams to have used illegal players.
Belgium had fielded one or more ineligible players on 7 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
Romania has fielded one ineligible player on 8 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
Spain had fielded one or more ineligible players on 9 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 8 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
As a result, a five-point deduction has been applied for any game with an illegible player involved. Therefore a 40-point deduction has been handed to Spain, and a 30-point deduction for both Belgium and Romania. This means Russia will qualify as Europe 1 into Pool A replacing Romania and Germany will replace Spain in the European play-off against Portugal.
They have also imposed the following financial penalties: Belgium: £125,000, Spain: £50,000, Romania: £100,000. They have been suspended for a period of five years conditional that no breaches occur during that period.
The decision has been met with a huge amount of criticism online as the punishment sets an odd precedent.
All parties have a right of appeal within 14 days of receiving the full written decision. For now, the result is that Ireland are now joined by Russia in Pool A, not Spain or Belguim.