There was jubilation in the Spanish camp when the national team qualified for the 2023 World Cup earlier this year, and immeasurable despair. when the team learned that he had indeed been disqualified from the main tournament due to fielding an ineligible player during two of their Rugby European Championship matches.
Prop Gavin van der Berg was drafted into the Spanish squad for two games against Netherlands under the assumption that the South African-born striker was qualified to play for Los Leones. That assumption was based on the fact that his club, Lexus Alcobendas Rugby, had falsified documents suggesting that Van der Berg had completed three consecutive years of residence in Spain when, in fact, he had spent a lot of time outside of Spain during the entire period.
After an investigation into the matter, World Rugby stripped Spain of the 10 competition points it had earned against the Netherlands, which saw Los Leones drop from second place on the ladder to fourth, costing them an automatic ticket to the World Cup and also an opportunity to play in the playoff competition to decide the final qualifier for the tournament.
To make matters worse, it was the second time in a row that Spain had initially qualified for a World Cup only due to eligibility issues to see them eliminated from the competition.
What separates this year’s disqualification from the previous one, however, is that when Spain were kicked out of the 2019 iteration, the blame rested firmly with the union, which had knowingly fielded ineligible players. This year, the union’s only fault was in not carrying out additional due diligence, but there was no deception at play on their behalf, just ignorance. The main flaw is elsewhere.
But if the show that was the recent match between Spain and the Clásico All the black people in Madrid it’s anything, World Rugby will be missing a big trick by not reconsidering Spain’s omission from the 2023 World Cup.
More than 40,000 spectators flocked to the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday night to witness an epic clash between the Spanish team and some of the best New Zealand players of yesteryear. The game itself was exciting, with the touring Classic All Blacks triumphing 33-26 following a huge comeback by Los Leons, but it was the passion and enthusiasm of the fans that should have made the game administrators take notice.
Despite only filling two-thirds of the Wanda Metropolitano, the fans in attendance produced a noise on par with that which would be heard at major events at Twickenham, the Principality Stadium or the Stade de France.
Rugby is growing rapidly on the Iberian Peninsula and Spain has shown on the pitch that there are few better teams in continental Europe, beyond top-tier nations such as France and Italy. If World Rugby is looking to expand and grow the game, then they couldn’t do better than to bring a World Cup to Spain, given the nation’s already evident passion for the sport coupled with its proximity to countries such as France and the UK. .
Instead, however, it is likely that Spain will not even appear in the competition next year.
While it is right to send a clear message to administrators that things need to change in the Spanish Rugby Federation (and those changes are apparently already taking place), Los Leones are taking a heavy beating, for the second competition in a row – for indiscretions off the field.
“I remember that I started to cry”, Spanish center Alvar Gimeno saying RugbyPass of his euphoria after Los Leones secured second place in the European qualification behind Georgia. “It was an emotion that I cannot explain, the feeling was like an explosion.
“We were very, very happy and the whole week before Georgia we were having fun and enjoying being part of the group. We were at the World Cup.
“Now is hard”.
“We did everything possible to get there,” added his teammate Gonzalo Vinuesa. “Somebody did something terrible, something that is the opposite of what rugby does. [stands for] in Spain, that has led us as a team and us as a country to be out of the World Cup. It’s very, very difficult.”
Van der Berg amassed just 50 minutes of rugby for Spain in their wins against the Netherlands in the last two years (the only time he spent in camp with the team), coming off the bench in 2021’s 52-7 drubbing and 43 – of this year. 0 hits. It’s safe to say that even without Van der Berg’s contribution, Los Leones would have posted comfortable wins in both games.
“He was with the team for two weeks, just the two weeks he played,” Vinuesa said. “He wasn’t really a part of the team. He plays in the Spanish competition, so we knew him from that, but that’s it.
“It doesn’t make sense, but it is what it is.”
For Gimeno, 24, and Vinuesa, 21, the chance to represent their nation at a Rugby World Cup is likely to come in the future (although Gimeno now has his sights set on a spell in New Zealand to recharge). the batteries). ), but for some of the team’s stalwarts, 2023 represents the last possible chance to play in the game’s main tournament.
“There are a lot of people who thought that he would retire in 2023 after the World Cup, but now I don’t know how the team will be in a year’s time,” Vinuesa said.
While Spain is defying World Rugby’s decision, with the ultimate goal of being readmitted to the 2023 tournament, and is willing to jump through as many hurdles as it takes to get Los Leones to the World Cup, there is little chance that the game’s governing body back down. down on your decision, especially given what happened before the 2019 event.
However, even if there is only a slim chance of reversing World Rugby’s decision, Spain will seize those opportunities and fight to the bitter end.
“We are trying to do everything we can,” Vinuesa said.
“I’m not hopeful,” Gimeno added. “Maybe there’s a slim chance, so we’re going to fight… But I think we’re out.”
All signs could point to Los Leones missing out on the 2023 World Cup, but it’s not just Spain that will suffer. The global audience has been robbed of the chance to see one of the most exciting developing nations take part in a World Cup for the first time since 1999 and witness the continued growth of the game across Europe.
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