Japan will play Russia in the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2019 after Romania were essentially thrown out of the tournament for fielding an ineligible player during the qualifying process, World Rugby announced Wednesday.
Romania, Spain and Belgium were all deducted points from the European qualifying tournament for fielding players that were not qualified to play, leaving Germany to play Portugal for the right to meet Samoa in the playoffs.
The winner of that game joins Japan, Ireland, Scotland and Russia in Pool A in the World Cup which kicks off Sept. 20, 2019, at Tokyo's Ajinomoto Stadium.
World Rugby said in a press release that in line with the decision of an independent disputes committee, "Russia will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019 as Europe 1, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the playoff winner in Pool A, while Germany will progress to the European playoff with Portugal, subject to the appeals process."
"While the independent disputes committee has determined that mistakes were not made in bad faith by Rugby Europe and some participating unions, World Rugby is extremely disappointed with the unfortunate and avoidable events, as expressed when announcing the convening of the independent committee."
The sport's governing body went on to say that "Fans who have purchased tickets for Rugby World Cup 2019 matches involving Romania via official channels will be entitled to a full refund for the face value of the ticket should they not wish to attend."
"No further comment will be made while the 14-day appeal window is open."
(Romania national team. Photo supplied by World Rugby)
It is understood Romania have already launched an appeal regarding the eligibility of the Tongan-born Sione Faka'osilea who played in six of the country's eight European qualifiers.
The European qualifying tournament was thrown into disarray when Spain lost 18-10 in their final game to Belgium, having only needed a win to qualify for World Cup.
The defeat, in a game refereed by Romanian Vlad Iordachescu, initially saw Romania qualify for Pool A. Five Spanish players were handed lengthy bans for verbally and physically abusing the official after the final whistle.
In the aftermath, the eligibility of certain players in the tournament was also raised.
On Wednesday, the independent disputes confirmed that "Belgium had fielded one or more ineligible players on seven occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which six matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)."
"Romania has fielded one ineligible player on eight occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which six matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)...while Spain had fielded one or more ineligible players on nine occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which eight matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)."
The committee ruled that "that each team be deducted five championship points for each game in which an ineligible player or players participated."
(A countdown board for Rugby World Cup 2019)
As such, Spain were deducted 40 points, while Belgium and Romania were both docked 30 points.
"World Rugby Regulation 8 stipulates mandatory financial penalties for breaches of 25,000 pounds (about $33,700) per ineligible player for a union not represented on the World Rugby Council and 100,000 pounds for a union represented on Council," the press release said.
As a result, Belgium were fined 125,000 pounds, suspended for a period of five years conditional that no breaches occur during that period. Romania were docked 100,000 pounds while Spain were hit for 50,000 pounds.
World Rugby also announced the rescheduling of Samoa's Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification matches.
"Subject to any appeal of the disputes committee's decision, the winner of the European playoff between Germany and Portugal, provisionally scheduled for June 9 will play Samoa home-and-away in the playoff to determine the final Pool A place. The first leg will be played in Apia on June 30 with the return leg in Europe on July 14."
The winner on aggregate will qualify for Pool A, while the loser will progress to the repechage competition in November.
World Rugby also said Regulation 9, which deals with the release of players from their club teams to play test matches, will apply for the rescheduled games to ensure the least disruption possible for the Pacific Islanders, many of whom play their trade in Europe.