On Tuesday, it was highlighted that there were exactly 500 days to go to the start of the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023. The Boks have been drawn in Pool B with Ireland, Scotland and Spain, as well as a yet-to-be-determined qualifying team.
Yet in a dramatic turn of events it’s been confirmed that Spain have been deducted 10 log points in qualifying for fielding an ineligible player (ironically a South Africa-born player), and now the Boks are instead set to meet Romania for the first time since the 1995 World Cup.
In a further twist, the player in question has been accused of possessing an allegedly forged passport in order to play for the country on residency.
It was the Romanian Rugby Union that filed a complaint against Spain, alleging they had used illegible player, South African-born prop Gavin Van den Berg, during qualifying.
A World Rugby statement read as follows:
An independent judicial committee considering a potential breach of Regulation 8 (eligibility for a national team) has determined that Spain fielded an ineligible player during two Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification matches and has imposed a 10-point deduction and a financial sanction.
In respect of the sanction, the independent committee, comprising Nigel Hampton QC (Chair), Pamela Woodman and Frank Hadden, imposed the following:
The deduction of five points for each of the two matches in which the ineligible player was fielded by the Spanish union (10 points in total).
World Rugby Regulation 8 stipulates mandatory financial penalties for breaches of the regulation. The committee imposed the fixed sanction of £25,000 and noted that a suspended sanction of £50,000 relating to a previous eligibility breach during qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019 would be payable.
Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain, and Portugal will replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022.
Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee.
The clock is also ticking fast for the Springboks, with a little over two months before they face Wales in the Incoming Series opener at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria (on Saturday, 2 July), which will be followed by Tests in Bloemfontein (9 July) and Cape Town (16 July).
This will be followed by the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship three weeks later, when the Boks take on the All Blacks in back-to-back Tests in Nelspruit and Johannesburg (Saturdays 6 and 13 August), before their tour to Australia and Argentina, where they will the Wallabies twice Down Under and the Pumas in Buenos Aires. The final round of the Championship is in Durban on Saturday, 24 September, against Argentina.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said excitement started to build with the global showpiece moving into view, despite a bumper 2021 season still ahead for South Africa.
Nienaber, who served as an assistant coach in the Boks’ triumphant 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan under the guidance of SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, said the milestone date sparked great excitement, while at the same time highlighting the significance of getting their structures in place with an eye on their title defence.
On social media, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus marked the countdown by posting a video he described as “nostalgic moment from the past”.
The Boks are still the No 1-ranked side as the next World Cup looms on the horizon
Nienaber and his coaching team have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for the international season, with the first of their two alignment camps being hosted in Durban earlier this month, and the second alignment camp will take place in Cape Town from Sunday 1 to Thursday 5 May.
“It was wonderful to see the players buying into our processes at the first alignment camp a few weeks ago, and we are hoping to build on this at our next camp,” said Nienaber.
“The international season is creeping closer, so the sooner we have the players and management on the same page in terms of our structures, the easier it will make things when we take the field at our first training camp before the July Tests.”
BREAKING: One of Boks’ World Cup pool opponents cut from tournament Thank You