Rugby Europe have big decision to make over Belgium v Spain fixture

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Rugby Europe have big decision to make over Belgium v Spain fixture
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu watches the action during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Europe Qualifier match between Belgium and Spain held at Little Heysel next to King Baudouin Stadium on March 18, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

When seeing the diabolical scenes after the Rugby World Cup qualifier match between Belgium and Spain, it appeared that Romania would be heading to Japan. But as the frustration of Spanish players erupted, Rugby Europe and World Rugby must now rule on the validity of the match result.

Validity, but also on the impartial views of the Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu. And while Last Word on Rugby will state that all appointments by Rugby Europe were made ahead of time, the instance of a ‘conflict of interest’ has overshadowed the 18-10 win by Belgium.

Yes, Belgium won the International Test match. And that result will have stood if the officiating had appeared to be unbiased. But with a penalty count of 8-28, the fairness of the officials judgement was evident on paper, as much as on the field.

Rugby Europe have big decision to make over Belgium v Spain fixture

This match was controlled by Rugby Europe, under the auspices of World Rugby [as an Rugby World Cup qualifier]. So the function of the European organization has faced the wrath of the the aggrieved visiting team; Spain.

The Spanish team made an official request to Rugby Europe to change the all-Romanian officials on February 19, once it became clear that there looked to be a possible conflict, but it was rejected. Since the matches result though, Rugby Europe have confirmed that they will not comment on the matter until a full review into Iordachescu’s performance has been completed.

So on the one hand, the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) immediately protested the outcome – admittedly, the player prostrations were close to be being violent – yet the status of Romania having qualified was originally well publicised by World Rugby.

But for the many who watched the match, the imbalance of rulings made for a tough watch.

Spanish Rugby officials make official complaint

“Romania needed Spain to lose in order to go to the World Cup, evidently, a Romanian referee was not ideal for this game,” an FER statement said.

“The federation will present a complaint to Rugby Europe, copying World Rugby, so that the Commission of Referees can review the video of the game and determine if the referee deliberately favoured Romania’s interests and, if that is the case, take action.”

While tempers flared at the conclusion of the game, the importance of the fixture has seen more than ‘pure emotion’ rule the conversation. With every eligible team having grand dreams of attending an World Cup, an inflection of biase has clouded the outcome.

In reaction to the outcry, Europe Rugby have said “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.”

Outside observers mind you, have been quick to judge the reaction. That included Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward.

World Rugby to investigate qualifying defeat

The reaction by rugby commentators and by each organization reflects the importance of the match outcome. The Europe 1 qualifying place would see that team compete in Pool A. So a nations hopes are balanced on the reaction by the governing bodies.

Rugby Europe had wanted more information. “Board members unanimously requested additional information (in particular [information] provided straight ahead of the meeting to World Rugby) before taking an accurate decision,” a statement read.

A such, World Rugby has said now that “it is in contact with Rugby Europe to understand the context of events relating to the Belgium v Spain match.”

With that known, all parties are now awaiting any decision. Belgium are hoping that their result may stand. The Spanish rugby federation subsequently lodged a formal request for the match to be replayed. That may seem to be an appropriate way to satisfy to upset party, but Rugby Europe did not predispose the Romanian referees appointment.

Only the sides placing resulted in an Belgium v Spain fixture meaning that Romanian officials were appointed. Some would say that it was ‘coincidental’. That might well have been so, yet the controversy could have been avoided.

If the judgement is that ‘Rugby Europe were complicit in the confirmed appointment of referees’ then it may call into that organizations qualification to rule on matches that may impact on a Rugby World Cup status. That might be a positive outcome, of yet to be made decisions. And once those rulings are created, than both the winners and losers may just be inverted; in terms of the World Cup competitor and the defeated.

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