Spain’s dream of facing the world champion Springboks in Pool B of the 2023 World Cup has been brought to a crushing end after they were disqualified from the tournament.
Los Leones had booked their place at the World Cup for just the second time in their history by finishing in second place in the combined Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 standings on 14 March.
However, Spain were placed under investigation and have been found guilty by an independent judicial committee for breaching player eligibility rules.
The player concerned is South African-born prop Gavin van den Berg, who came off the bench in the 43-0 and 52-7 wins over the Netherlands, where Spain were able to claim maximum log points.
As a result of the breach, the 10 points that Spain earned in those two games were removed. Romania, who were initially going to compete in the repechage competition, have replaced Spain in Pool A.
— España Rugby (@ferugby) April 28, 2022
“After the oral hearing held this Thursday, April 28, with the independent judicial committee appointed by World Rugby to study the claim of the Romanian Rugby Federation (FRR) on the eligibility of Gavin Van den Berg, the highest body in world rugby has decided to penalize Spain with 25,000 pounds and deduct five points for each of the two games in which this player was lined up,” Spain Rugby said in a statement.
“While waiting for World Rugby to make the ruling official, this decision means disqualification from the 2023 World Cup in France, a competition for which the XV del León had qualified directly by finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021-2022.
“As this very harsh sanction occurs as a result of an alleged forgery of the aforementioned player’s passport, the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time and will shortly call a press conference to offer all the explanations that are required.”
According to Americas Rugby News, Van den Berg was considered not eligible as he did not complete the requirements of three years consecutive residency in Spain, having returned to South Africa for longer than allowed under regulation 8.
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 19 December. But he reportedly returned to South Africa for four months in 2019, and went back there again during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Regulation 8 requires players to remain in the country for 10 months per year to qualify on the residency rule.
Further complicating the issue is that Van den Berg and his Spanish club, Alcobendas, reportedly provided false documentation and were cleared to play by both the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) and World Cup. The FER proposed that Van den Berg and the club be sanctioned with a respective rejection of his visa and relegation of the club, but World Rugby were strict over the breach of regulation 8.
It is the second time that Spain have been kicked out of a World Cup qualification, having been sanctioned for the same offence in 2019.
Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images