Spain blame Romanian referee for Rugby World Cup failure
Last Updated: 19/03/18 1:22pm
Spanish players and officials have blamed the Romanian referee for their team's failure to automatically qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Spain would have qualified for the first time in 20 years with a win over Belgium but they were left angry by the decision to allow a Romanian referee and touch judges take charge of the defeat which meant Romania advanced to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
At full-time, Spain players confronted referee Vlad Iordaschescu along with his two fellow Romanian assistant referees. Iordaschescu had to be escorted from the field by security.
Spain said the penalty count was 18-8 in favour of Belgium and coach Santiago Santos called the refereeing "biased".
"It isn't just Spain who are the losers today," Santos told LaLiga4Sports. "Rugby is the loser. The refereeing was biased; it wasn't impartial."
Captain Jaime Nava was left to apologise for the behaviour of his players for their reaction on the final whistle but he too questioned the officiating and decision to allow a Romanian official to take charge.
"The referee cancelled us," Nava said.
"I'm the captain and I would like to apologise for what happened with the referee," he told Radio Marca. "The image at the end of the game does not represent the sport nor the values of this team. It must be understood however, we've lost part of our dream.
"I don't want to think that rugby [has been fixed] to put us out. When we were assigned Romanian officials, we were shocked. But this is rugby, the values are assumed. The dressing room is down, sunk. For sure, today rugby has lost."
The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) apologised on its website, saying it "regrets the reaction of some players who did not contain their mood at the end of the match".
But FER also said it will file a complaint to tournament organiser Rugby Europe about the refereeing, and request video of the match be analysed to check if decisions were "deliberately partial to favour the interests of Romania."
The sport's governing body, World Rugby, issued a statement saying it was "in contact with Rugby Europe to understand the context of events relating to the Belgium v Spain match in Brussels on Sunday."
Spain were in pole position for qualifying after they beat Romania 22-10 in Madrid last month, for the first time in six years.
FER said the next day it asked the president of the Rugby Europe referees commission, Patrick Roben, to change the officials for the Belgium match because all three were Romanian, and Romania needed a Spain loss to qualify. FER said Roben denied the request because the match appointments were done weeks in advance. Only the match commissioner was changed, to a Frenchman.
Rugby Europe released a statement on Sunday confirming the appointments were made before the Rugby Europe Championship, and confirmed during the tournament based on refs' performances.
"While we appreciate that this is a subject of high emotion, it would be inappropriate to comment on match official performance before the usual full review has been undertaken," Rugby Europe said. "This is usual procedure and occurs for every match."
On Sunday, Romania lost its Rugby Europe Championship title to Georgia 25-16 in Tbilisi.
But the Oaks finished second in the standings to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, a point above Spain. Georgia already automatically qualified.
Romania will slot into Pool A with Ireland, Scotland, Japan, and a yet-to-be-determined playoff winner. They are scheduled to play the opening match with hosts Japan at Toyota on September 20, 2019.
Romania have played at every Rugby World Cup but never advanced beyond the pool stage.
Spain, who last made the Rugby World Cup in 1999, have a harder road to qualify. It will play Portugal for the right to play Samoa home and away. The winner on aggregate will join Romania in Pool A as the playoff winner, and the loser will go to a four-team répechage in November with Canada and two other teams.