Romania into Rugby World Cup finals despite some last-round controversy

Harry Kimble Roar Guru

By Harry Kimble, Harry Kimble is a Roar Guru

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    It took until the last round of the European Championship to confirm who would go directly to the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan as Europe’s entry.

    It was an absorbing series. The 2017 and 2018 European Rugby Championship doubled as the European Cup and the Rugby World Cup 2019 European qualifier. All six nations – Belgium, Georgia, Germany, Romania, Russia and Spain – took part in the Cup. However, for the World Cup qualifiers, all games involving Georgia were not considered as Georgia had direct entry to the finals.

    There were changing fortunes right from the opening game in 2019 when the favourites, Romania, were beaten by Germany and that loss opened the door to Germany, Russia and Spain. Romania later caused an upset when they beat Georgia but that result was not included in the qualification process.

    Romania also beat their main rivals, Spain, to lead the table at the end of the 2017 season. The table had Romania on 15, Spain 13, Russia nine, Germany eight and Belgium on two points. At this point, only Belgium were out of the reckoning.

    Germany were then eliminated as a threat when there was an upheaval in the German Rugby Verbund (DRV). Despite doing well in 2017 and showing big improvements in their playing standards, German rugby changed administration and reverted to amateur philosophies, not selecting Germans playing in France and not paying well so good players couldn’t afford to take time off work, causing strikes by players and staff. As a result, Germany did not win a game in 2018, losing 85-6 to Romania, and could be relegated to B division for 2019.

    The next crunch game was the Russia-Spain match played in Russia. Both sides were even before Spain pulled away to a 20-13 lead. With a minute to play, a Russian player dived around a ruck but the Spanish Leones (Lions) pushed him back.

    No-one on the field saw him ground the ball next to the posts until the television commentators advised that the ball had been grounded. It was too late, as the Russian Rugby Union had not appointed a TMO for the match (too expensive, they said) so 20-13 was the final score and the hosts were out of the running. A 20-all draw would have kept Russia in the race.

    That only left Romania and Spain vying for the top spot so the clash in Madrid was important to both sides. A crowd of 15,800 packed the Madrid University ground (despite its official capacity of just 12,000), with Spain needing to win to stay in contention. A 22-10 victory to the hosts not only had them level with Romania but put them in the lead in the head-to-head points and denied Romania a much-needed bonus point.

    In the next round, Romania needed a bonus point against Russia to stay ahead of Spain. After the Spanish fiasco, Russia sacked its coach, Aleksandr Pervukhin, and appointed Irishman Mark McDermott. Romania won 25-15, scoring four tries to two, but it wasn’t good enough for the bonus point, as a difference of three tries is required. To qualify, Romania could only hope that Spain was beaten by both Belgium and Germany.

    On the same day as the Romania-Russia game, Spain travelled to Tbilisi to face Georgia. A 30,000-strong crowd packed the ground and although Spain showed how much they had improved, were no match for the Lelos, who won 23-10. This match had no bearing on Rugby World Cup qualification but did matter for the European Cup.

    Spain’s last home game was against Germany and to show how much rugby’s profile has increased there, the King of Spain attended along with 15,750 spectators. The king mixed with players and fans on the field after the match. It was a 12-try-to-one rout as Spain defeated the German ‘amateurs’ 84-10. In the same round, Romania thrashed Belgium, 62-12, which included three penalty tries conceded by Belgium.

    Spanish magazine ‘Marca’ following the Spain-Germany game.

    So it came down to the final round. The Germany-Russia and Georgia-Romania games had no bearing on Rugby World Cup qualification. For the record, Russia beat Germany 57-3 in Cologne and Georgia beat Romania 25-16 in front of a 38,000-strong crowd in Tbilisi.

    But it was the Belgium-Spain game that was important. If Spain won or drew then they were through to the Rugby World Cup. If they, lost, then Romania would qualify directly.

    It seemed straightforward. In two years, Belgium had won only one game, against Germany, and had lost their others by quite large margins.

    The referee and both assistant referees were from Romania. Spain asked for them to be replaced by referees from another country, fearing they would not be neutral, but the request was disallowed by Rugby Europe.

    So a farce ensued. The penalty count was 28-8 in favour of the Belgians – that’s right, one every three minutes – and Belgium led 12-0 (with four penalty goals) at halftime. A Spanish player was later given a yellow card and Belgium kicked another goal.

    At the 70-minute mark, Spain scored the only try of the match and four minutes later they kicked a penalty goal. At 15-10, the scores were close but another penalty allowed Belgium to take an 18-10 lead, which would stand until full-time.

    At full-time, the Spanish players chased the referees from the field and may face sanctions because of this. World Rugby, meanwhile, have comfirmed they are investigating the match.

    Romania will be in pool A with Ireland, Scotland and Japan and will contest the Rugby World Cup opener against Japan. Spain will now have to play their Iberian neighbours, Portugal, with the winner playing a home-and-away series against Samoa for the right to enter the Rugby World Cup finals.

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2018 @ 2:48am
      The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 21st 2018 @ 2:48am | ! Report

      Thanks for this HK. Great report on what should be a rather happy story of the progress of Tier Two rugby in Europe… But boy oh boy… things got ugly in the end.

      A minor detail you missed is that the president of Rugby Europe is from Romania and it was him that ultimately denied the Spanish Unions request of changing referees.

      I am not 100 percent sure that the result between Belgium and Spain will stand. I can never recall a Tier Two Test sending this kind of “shock waves” through the rugby world.
      There is room within World Rugby jurisdiction to call the result void and have a replay (especially as a World Cup Qualifier). That World Rugby right away started to comment on this Test in public (while also clearly say they have not appointed the refs) tells me they are taking this very serious (and they should, this looks terrible for everyone involved).

      One thing that just hit me is that we have no idea what kind of pressure the ref was from “people” in Romania. The country does not exactly have a proud history fighting against corruption (to put it mildly). As stated by several others, this situation should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

      My dear wish is that World Rugby does the following things:
      1. Call the result void and announces replay (with neutral refs), hence this is not within the games ethic to even have a suspicion of foul play hence the ref was from a country that could benefit from a certain result. Does not matter if the ref is “guilty” or not.
      2. Suspend the Spanish players that were the most involved chasing the ref a couple of months (there are clearly 3-4 players that are more active than the rest)
      3. Deal with ref review behind closed doors. It was plain wrong to appoint a Romanian ref in the first place and who knows what kind of pressure he could have been under from certain people in Romania.
      4. Kindly recommend the Romanian president of Rugby Europe to resign.

      • March 21st 2018 @ 9:36am
        Shop said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        x2

      • Roar Rookie

        March 21st 2018 @ 12:06pm
        piru said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

        or…..

        The referee is considered the sole judge of fact and law, as in every other game of rugby ever played.

        The result stands

        Spain learn to deal with disappointment like adults

        • March 21st 2018 @ 3:55pm
          cuw said | March 21st 2018 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

          xcept when there was blatant abuse of power.

          according to neutral experts the issue was not the ref was wrong – it was that he punished only one side for fouls while the other side was not.

          am sure this also happens but when it is very obvious and on multiple times – then it becomes a problem.

          in any game/sport , where it is clear that the ref/umpire/judge has acted impartially – there are consequences.

          i know for fact that in cricket and football umps n refs have been suspended and/banned for match fixing.

          while those cases were for money and this case is for another reason, the same shud apply.

        • March 21st 2018 @ 7:38pm
          terrence said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:38pm | ! Report

          ..if the officiating proves fraudulent, then there is no other option but to void the result and call for a replay of the match..

      • Roar Rookie

        March 21st 2018 @ 12:16pm
        ChrisG said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        It seems a shame that the situation could arise where teams / officials / national organisations can appear to be subject to corruption. No surprises in Europe (or South America for that matter) where this is common place in other sports.

        I agree with your wishes and would like to add one more:
        5. World Rugby appoint all match officials for future games where the result has a bearing on teams gaining a place in a World Cup.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2018 @ 1:40pm
          The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 21st 2018 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

          5. World Rugby appoint all match officials for future games where the result has a bearing on teams gaining a place in a World Cup.

          That is a great call ChrisG. Hopefully, that is the good news that will come out of this mess long term. World Rugby simply has to “own” every part of their flagship tournament and protect its integrity and credibility with a passion.

        • March 21st 2018 @ 3:41pm
          rebel said | March 21st 2018 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

          Chris on your last point, that is probably a lot more matches than you think. For example the top two teams of the B 6 nations directly qualified for the WC. So essentially every match in that tournament was a WC qualifier.
          I think someting should be done to tighten things up, but WR has sub confederations around the world for a reason. Otherwise WR would be an administrative behemoth.

          • March 21st 2018 @ 4:01pm
            cuw said | March 21st 2018 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

            yes – and there is a reason most things are decentralized.

            one has to look at recent history and see if such potentially controversial appointments are common – of if this is a one off.

            have not seen in press such issues being discussed – so i hazard a guess that this is a single case of bias.

            the Romanian President who made the appointment shud be held accountable.

            it seems he was clearly biased – when he rejected the request to change the ref , months in advance.

            after all WR pulled the saffa ref at the last minute in the 6N match.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2018 @ 4:06pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 21st 2018 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

            It is fair point rebel, but at the end of the day, World Rugby has to own their own competition. To use local competitions as World Cup Qualifiers might be the real mistake here.
            The qualifiers for the FIFA WC is only qualifiers and nothing else, and they are “owned” by FIFA. The local championships are “owned” by the local federations.

            • March 21st 2018 @ 6:10pm
              rebel said | March 21st 2018 @ 6:10pm | ! Report

              Agree in football everyone except the host nation has to qualify, usually through their confederation. Simple.
              In rugby some qualify due to their world ranking. Some from topping their comp. Some from a convoluted around the world series of qual matches. The whole thing is a mess.
              I am happy for confederations to look after themselves however discrepancies should be investigated.

              Unfortunately rugby isn’t big enough yet to have all qualify via confederations and our confederations aren’t simple, just look at SANZAAR. For Rugby to try and replicate what works well in football, the international competitions as we know them woukd change forever. The big boys wouldn’t be prepared to give that up just yet. Ideally ot would be great, but just not feasible.

              • March 22nd 2018 @ 1:19am
                Bakkies said | March 22nd 2018 @ 1:19am | ! Report

                ‘In rugby some qualify due to their world ranking. Some from topping their comp. Some from a convoluted around the world series of qual matches. The whole thing is a mess.’

                Not really.

                The top 12 from the previous RWC qualify.

                Sanzaar isn’t a confederation. It is a basket case organisation that governs Super Rugby and the 4 Nations. Australia and NZ are in the Oceania confederation. For the 1999 RWC Australia qualified by playing the likes of Fiji in the Oceania playoffs.

                SA are in Rugby Africa and Argentina in the Americas confederation.

              • March 22nd 2018 @ 8:23pm
                rebel said | March 22nd 2018 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

                So basically a mess.

              • March 22nd 2018 @ 3:36pm
                cuw said | March 22nd 2018 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

                The top 12 from the previous RWC qualify.

                that is the biggest difference between rugger and footy.

                cannot really compare cricket – becoz there are anyway only a few with test / ODI , but again as i recall the top 8 ranked are automatic qualifiers ( but not from the last world cup).

                in fact right now West Indies are playing in a tournament with associates to qualify for next world cup – coz they are ranked 9 in ICC table.

                the way rugger goes about selecting teams for a world cup and then seeding them really needs a rethink.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 22nd 2018 @ 8:33am
            ChrisG said | March 22nd 2018 @ 8:33am | ! Report

            Rebel – I imagine that there will be a lot more matches however that is not a bad thing. As stated by others I also believe that World Rugby need to own the issue, and if that requires more investment in tier 2 officiating then so be it.

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

              Totally agree with ChrisG. Long term it can only be a good thing if World Rugby involves itself more with Tier two and three. I also think there is room for money-making growth here, hence I think a lot of rugby fans don’t mind watching Tier two internationals if there are two evenly matched teams, a solid ref, and something to play for.

            • March 22nd 2018 @ 8:26pm
              rebel said | March 22nd 2018 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

              If thats the case the WR should be the sole authority in appointing referees in all internationals.
              I personally think its overkill as I have never focussed that much on the ref.

    • March 21st 2018 @ 3:59am
      Mitch (in Valencia) said | March 21st 2018 @ 3:59am | ! Report

      Thanks for the roundup!
      20 years of dreaming and two great games vs Russia and Romania and Spain lived an 80min nightmare to have it all dashed away. The Spanish rugby community is in meltdown!

      The players didn’t play well, probably read their own press, and definitely acted like idiots at the end, but it’s tough to take a 28 penalty count. Especially when you asked for the Romanian ref team (ref and touches) to be changed, but to have it knocked back by rugby Europe, who’s president is an ex Romanian national player……

    • March 21st 2018 @ 7:27am
      The Slow Eater said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Wow. Just wow – a fiasco indeed. How can qualifying matches for a World Cup birth not have a TMO? How can all referees for such an important match (Spain vs Belgium) be from the same country? Plenty of questions and I suspect not many answers?

    • March 21st 2018 @ 8:06am
      bigbaz said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Saw the highlights on u tube, not pretty

    • March 21st 2018 @ 8:19am
      Malo said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      The irb should really develop this league so we can have a great international flavour . Group 1 nations should all have to play these nations so they improved. Great article .

    • March 21st 2018 @ 10:35am
      Lion Down Under said | March 21st 2018 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      Once again World Rugby showing themselves totally incompetent. Allowing the amateur Rugby Europe to put a Romanian officiating team in charge is an absolute joke and shows how WR just don’t care about Tier 2. If they did they would force England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to join Rugby Europe (which is the new rebranding of FIRA, set up by the French in 1934 after being kicked out of the 5 Nations and which was the only body in rugby union which actually tried to expand the game prior to the late 90s) and make it a professional organisation. And they’d actually take notice of conflicts of interest in WC qualifying games. WR make FIFA look like a well run, impartial organisation.

      Additionally it’s such a shame to hear about how Germany have regressed. From my, limited, understanding the game in Germany has long been held back by a clique of amateurs from Heidelburg (the stronghold of the German game) who oppose growth of the German game as it will lessen their power. Shame to see them winning.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2018 @ 5:22pm
        Harry Kimble said | March 21st 2018 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

        Germany was quite strong in the 1930s. When France was kicked out of the 5 nations, it formed European Rugby (FIRA) and spread the game to other European nations. Germany even played Romania in 1940 after Britain suspended internationals due to the war.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2018 @ 6:29pm
          The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 21st 2018 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

          There is a rather dark story why Germany had a pretty good team back then. AH was a massive fan of all things Brittish and his dream was that Germany and England should become allies and rule the world together. And a small part of AH’s love for all things Brittish was that the government backed rugby very hard.
          Then came the war and pretty much all German rugby players were killed and after the war no-one wanted to “touch” the sport in Germany, for obvious reasons.

          It is interesting that rugby still scores very well as a TV-sport in Germany, the World Cup, and the 6N is usually on FTA and has very good viewing numbers.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 21st 2018 @ 7:42pm
            piru said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

            This is why we can’t have nice things

            Thanks Neutral, interesting topic

          • March 22nd 2018 @ 1:29am
            Bakkies said | March 22nd 2018 @ 1:29am | ! Report

            They started to get good attendances a couple of years back. A lot of Brits were still stationed in Germany up until recently.

      • March 22nd 2018 @ 1:32am
        Bakkies said | March 22nd 2018 @ 1:32am | ! Report

        ‘If they did they would force England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to join Rugby Europe’

        They are all members of Rugby Europe.

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