The dream of Spain to play a Rugby World Cup again after 24 years of ostracism was shattered: World Rugby disqualified him for the poor inclusion of a foreign player during the qualifying competition, according to the highest body in world rugby.
Spain had qualified for France World Cup 2023 after finishing second in the 2021/22 Rugby Europe Championship, which was a knockout tournament, which meant returning to the ecumenical tournament for the second time in its history, after his participation in Wales 1999. However, after the investigation carried out by an independent committee, World Rugby decided to subtract the 10 points obtained in the victories against the Netherlands (last in the table) for the undue inclusion of South African Gavin Van den Berga player from Alcobendas, since it did not comply with Rule 8.
Consequently, Romania, who had finished third, will take Spain’s place in Group B at France 2023 alongside South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and the winner of the Asia/Pacific qualifier (presumably Tongan). In addition, Portugal, which had been fourth, will replace Romania in the Repechage, which grants the last World Cup place. The winner of the tie was Georgia, which will make up Group C.
Spain had already made a similar mistake prior to the 2019 World Cup in Japan and had been sanctioned along with Romania and Belgium. Although they had not qualified directly, they missed out on opportunities to replace Romania and to play in the Repechage. That time, he had included players who had worn the France shirt at a Youth World Cup and were ineligible.
The joy of qualifying
In this opportunity, Spain incurred a double infringement. On the one hand, he included Van den Berg in the two games against the Netherlands, who had not complied with Rule 8, which stipulates when a player born in another country is eligible for a national team. On the one hand, he must have three years of residence in the country, but also he must stay for a minimum of 10 months each year, something that the independent committee found did not happen in the case of the South African. In addition, he detected that Alcobendas, the club in which he plays, he falsified documentation so that he could play.
The curious thing is that in the two games played by Van den Berg, Spain won: 43-0 and 52-7. The Netherlands finished last in the competition with just 4 points, the product of a victory against Russia, and was relegated.
In addition to deducting points, World Rugby sanctioned the Spanish Rugby Federation with a fine of 75,000 pounds sterling, 25,000 for embezzlement and 50,000 more for recidivism.
The FER had proposed removing Van den Berg’s work visa and deport him to south africa and relegating Alcobendas from the top flight, but World Rugby was adamant. Spain’s dream will have to wait four more years.
The anger was in crescendo throughout the day as the news spread like wildfire. Guillaume Rouet, scrum-half for the Spanish and international team since 2014, didn’t hesitate to express his feelings: “It’s outrageous, because it’s something we can’t control and we’re the ones who suffer the consequences. We are despondent and very upset because for many of us, it has happened twice in a row. The authorities above have not done their job.”
Rouet, who will be 39 years old for the next World Cup in 2027, was very harsh in his concepts and spared no criticism for Van den Berg: “If he had been a player who had played the entire campaign, who had played all ten games and that he was a very important part of the team, because we would have understood but it is clear that his presence was not necessary”.
And he continued harshly: “What image will we have? Are people going to want to play for the Spanish team now? For many French people, it is very hard to be released every time by their clubs to go play with Spain.. While we’ve finally earned some respect in the rugby world, we’re back to being clowns with this story.”
The South African had arrived in Burgos at the beginning of the 2018/19 season and, a priori, he fulfilled the condition of having remained in Spain for 36 continuous months, without having been out of the country for more than 60 days, from the date of his debut competitive, on September 15, 2018. As of December, he should be considered a Training player, who does not occupy a place as a foreigner, and, therefore, eligible for the national team.
Van den Berg went to Alcobendas the following year. In the middle of the pandemic, he spent a long period in his native country, which was extended because his father was sick. That period outside of Spain exceeded what was allowed, but in the photocopy of the passport page presented to the Spanish Federation in September 2021, which is not certified, the customs stamp appears modified to enter legality. The reason that she does not appear certified is that she claimed that her passport had been lost and also filed the corresponding police report.
In 2019, Spain was also excluded from the World Cup for irregularly fielding two players, Mathieu Belie Y Bastien Fuster, in a match against Belgium. Despite the appeal presented, the Lion (as the Iberian team is known) could not be part of the ecumenical event.