There was joy in the Spanish camp when the national side qualified for the 2023 World Cup earlier this year and immeasurable despair. when the team learned they were effectively disqualified from the show tournament due to launching an ineligible player during two of their Rugby Europe Championship matches.
Prop Gavin van der Berg was drafted into the Spanish squad for two matches against the The Netherlands under the assumption that the South African-born front-runner was qualified to play for Los Leones. This assumption was based on the fact that his club side, Lexus Alcobendas Rugby, forged documents to suggest that Van der Berg had completed three consecutive years of residency in Spain when, in reality, he spent enough time outside Spain during the period.
After an investigation into the matter, World Rugby garnered Spain the 10 competition points they had won against the Netherlands, which saw Los Leones fall from second place on the ladder to fourth, costing them both an automatic ticket to the World Cup as well as a shot at. playing in the replay competition to decide the final qualifier of the tournament.
To make matters worse, it was the second time in a row that Spain had initially qualified for the World Cup only for qualifying matters to see them eliminated from the competition.
What separates this year’s disqualification from the prior, however, is that when Spain was ruled out of the 2019 replay, the blame was firmly on the union – which deliberately launched ineligible players. This year, the only fault of the union was not to do extra due diligence – but there was no deception at stake in their name, just ignorance. The main culprit lies elsewhere.
But if the show that was Spain’s recent match with the Classic All Blacks in Madrid there is something to go, World Rugby will miss a huge trick without reconsidering Spain’s omission from the 2023 World Cup.
More than 40,000 spectators flocked to the Wanda Metropolitan on Saturday night to witness an epic clash between the Spanish national side and some of the main ones. New Zealand players of the past. The game itself was a thriller, with the traveling Classic All Blacks triumphing 33-26 following a great comeback from Los Leons, but it was the passion and excitement of the fans that should have the game’s managers taking note.
Despite only filling two-thirds of the Wanda Metropolitan, the fans in attendance made a noise equal to what you would hear at huge rehearsals at Twickenham, the Principality Stadium or Stade de France.
Rugby is growing rapidly on the Iberian Peninsula and Spain has proved on the field that there are few better sides in continental Europe – beyond first-rate nations such as. France and Italy. If World Rugby is looking to expand and grow the game, then they could do little better than take the World Cup to Spain, given the already obvious passion for the sport in the nation coupled with its proximity to the likes of France and the UK.
Instead, Spain will probably not even enter the competition next year.
While it’s fair to send a clear message to managers that things need to change in the Spanish Rugby Federation (and, according to all reports, those changes are already happening), Los Leones is issuing a severe penalty – for the second contest in a row – for off-field indiscretions.
“I remember crying,” said a Spanish center Alvar Gimeno told RugbyPass of his joy following Los Leones securing second place in the European qualification behind Georgia. “It was an emotion I can’t explain, the feeling was like an explosion.
“We were really, really happy and the whole week before Georgia we had fun and enjoyed being part of the group. We were in the World Cup.
“Now … it’s hard.”
“We did everything we could to get there,” added teammate Gonzalo Vinuesa. “Someone did something terrible – something that is the opposite of rugby [stands for] in Spain – that led to us as a team and to us as a country, being left out of the World Cup. It’s very, very difficult. ”
Van der Berg has accumulated just 50 minutes of rugby for Spain in their victories over the Netherlands over the past two years (the only time he has spent in camp with the side), coming off the bench in the thrashing 52-7 of 2021 and the following year 43- 0 batting. It is safe to say that even without the contribution of Van der Berg, Los Leones would have achieved comfortable victories in both games.
“He was with the team for two weeks – only two weeks he played,” said Vinuesa. “He was not really part of the team. He plays in the Spanish competition so we knew him from that, but that’s all.
“It doesn’t make sense, but it’s what it is.”
For 24-year-old Gimeno and 21-year-old Vinuesa, there will probably be an opportunity in the future to represent his nation at the Rugby World Cup (although Gimeno now has his eyes set on New Zealand to recharge his batteries). ) – but for some of the loyalists on the side, 2023 represents the last possible opportunity to play in the outstanding tournament of the game.
“There are a lot of people who thought they would retire in 2023 after the World Cup, but now I don’t know what the team will be like in a year,” Vinuesa said.
While Spain is challenging World Rugby’s decision, with the ultimate goal of being readmitted to the 2023 tournament – and ready to step through as many rings as necessary to lead Los Leones to the World Cup – the chances are slim that the game board will support . down on their decision, especially because of what happened before the 2019 event.
Even if it’s just a weak chance to overturn World Rugby’s decision, yet Spain will take those chances and fight to the bitter end.
“We’re trying to do everything we can,” said Vinuesa.
“I don’t hope so,” added Gimen. “Maybe it’s a small chance, so we’ll fight it … But I think we’re gone.”
All signs could indicate that Los Leones will not take part in the 2023 World Cup – but not only Spain will suffer. The global public has been deprived of the opportunity to see one of the most exciting developing nations participate in the World Cup for the first time since 1999 and witness the continued growth of the game in a wider Europe.
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