Spain’s place in 2023 Rugby World Cup in doubt

March 28, 2022 GMT

DUBLIN (AP) — Spain’s place in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France is in doubt while it is being investigated for fielding an ineligible player.

Spain qualified on March 13 for its second Rugby World Cup, and first since 1999.

But World Rugby said on Monday it was convening an independent judicial committee to examine a possible breach by Spain in World Cup qualifying of Regulation 8, concerning a player’s eligibility for internationals.

“World Rugby was made aware of a potential breach concerning one member of the Spanish national men’s senior team,” it said in a statement. “Having concluded initial enquiries, the international federation believes a formal independent review is warranted. The Spanish Rugby Union has been fully cooperative throughout the initial enquiries.”

The review reportedly concerns South Africa-born front-rower Gavin van der Berg. He made his debut on Dec. 18 as Spain beat the Netherlands 52-7 in Amsterdam in the Rugby Europe Championship, which also doubled as World Cup qualifying. Van der Berg was a second-half replacement and scored a try.

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He was a second-half replacement again on Feb. 5 when the Netherlands was beaten 43-0 in Madrid.

Van der Berg arrived in Spain in 2018, and had to live there for three years to qualify for Spain on residency before his debut on Dec. 18. But he reportedly returned to South Africa for four months in 2019, and went back there again during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

If Spain is found guilty of breaching Regulation 8, it could lose at least the 10 competition points it won against the Netherlands. That would drop it from second to fourth in European qualifying and out of the Rugby World Cup. Romania, instead, could rise to second and automatic qualification, and Portugal could finish third and advance to the world repechage tournament in November.

It’s the second straight Rugby World Cup qualifying that Spain has become embroiled in controversy. In 2018, Spain, Romania and Belgium were sanctioned for fielding ineligible players and Russia advanced to the World Cup in 2019 in Japan.

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