TORONTO — The world governing body of rugby bounced Romania from the 2019 Rugby World Cup on Tuesday, elevating Russia to the sport’s showcase.
An investigation set up by World Rugby found Romania, Belgium and Spain fielded ineligible players in the second-tier Rugby Europe Championship, which doubled as a qualifying competition for next year’s World Cup in Japan.
As a result, all three teams were deducted points, leaving 19th-ranked Russia to qualify for only its second World Cup. It replaces No. 17 Romania as the Europe 1 qualifier in Pool A, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and another team yet to be determined.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones, a former coach of Russia, shook his head at the news.
“It’s a pity, really, that rugby finds itself in this position,” he said. “The game’s about integrity and honesty and different things. But unfortunately we find ourselves in this position. I know those teams will probably appeal so there’s more to come on this.
“I think it’s sad really.”
The rulings indirectly affect 21st-ranked Canada, which is headed to a last-chance repechage in November to decide the final berth in the World Cup.
As a result of Tuesday’s disciplinary decisions, No. 28 Germany was promoted in place of No. 20 Spain to a separate qualifying playoff against No. 23 Portugal on June 9. The winner then faces No. 16 Samoa for a place in the World Cup (in Pool A).
The loser of that match against Samoa will join Canada in the four-team repechage. The other two teams will be the African Cup runner-up — one of No. 24 Namibia, No. 29 Kenya, No. 34 Uganda, No. 40 Morocco, No. 42 Tunisia and No. 44 Zimbabwe — and the winner of a playoff between the Asia Rugby Championship victor — either No. 22 Hong Kong, No. 31 South Korea or No. 48 Malaysia — and No. 85 Tahiti.
The repechage teams will play a round-robin to decide which country will draw into Pool B in Japan with New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Africa 1. Canada dropped into the repechage after losing qualifying series against the 15th-ranked Americans and No. 18 Uruguay.
Jones said he did not really care who Canada faces in the repechage.
“For me, we’ve got to play well,” he said. “My fear is we say ‘Oh, it’s Portugal. Oh it’s Germany.’ What does that mean? We turn up there half-hearted. We have to be at our best and play our best in three games to qualify for the World Cup.
“There’s part of me that thinks the tougher the team, the bigger Canada rises. Because, let’s be fair, we have to be one of the favourite teams with our experience and background.”
The Canadian men have appeared at every Rugby World Cup since the tournament’s inception in 1987. In past years, they have booked their tournament ticket at the first round of qualifying.
This will be the first World Cup that Romania misses.
World Rugby also handed out fines, suspended for five years, totalling 125,000 pounds (C$217,345) for Belgium, 100,000 pounds ($173,185) for Romania, and 50,000 pounds ($86,935) for Spain.
Sione Faka’osilea was ineligible for Romania, Mathieu Belie and Bastien Fuster for Spain, and five players for Belgium, because they previously played for national teams that tied them to countries of their birthplace or weren’t qualified by heritage.