Spain has been excluded from the 2023 Rugby World Cup after fielding an ineligible player in qualifying matches, the country's rugby federation said on Thursday.
World Rugby decided to fine Spain a total of €29,600 and dock ten points, which means Spain no longer qualifies for the tournament in France next year.
This would have been their second-ever appearance and first since 1999. Spain will be replaced at the finals by Romania, while Portugal now advances to a final qualification competition.
An investigation was opened after Romania's rugby federation complained about Spain illegally fielding South Africa-born front-row forward Gavin van der Berg.
Van der Berg made his debut and scored a try for Spain in December in a World Cup qualifying match against the Netherlands. He also played in the return fixture in February in Madrid.
He had arrived in Spain in 2018 and needed to live in the country for three years without a two-month break to qualify for residency.
But van der Berg reportedly returned to South Africa for four months in 2019 and went back there again during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Spanish federation said it was looking into the possibility that the player’s passport was forged and had opened a disciplinary procedure to investigate the case. It now has 14 days to appeal the decision by World Rugby.
The president of the Spanish rugby federation Alfonso Feijoo has said he would step down when the appeal process is completed.
“We are responsible but not guilty,” Feijoo said, "We lost in the offices a place that we earned on the field.”
Spain -- as well as Romania and Belgium -- had been sanctioned by World Rugby in 2018 for fielding ineligible players in qualifying for the last World Cup. The punishments resulted in Russia qualifying for the 2019 tournament in Japan.
Russia was disqualified from competing in the 2023 Rugby World Cup following its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.