Dublin (21/05 – 40.00) Ireland’s pool opponents Spain have been disqualified from next year’s Rugby World Cup in France after fielding an ineligible player in two matches of the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship, the Spanish federation and World Rugby announced on Thursday.

Spain were set to be in Ireland’s World Cup pool alongside South Africa, Scotland and a team from the Asia/Pacific region. Their disqualification means Ireland will now face Romania who will qualify automatically. The disqualification also means Portugal will go into a playoff for the tournament.

Spain secured a World Cup berth for the first time since 1999 with a 33-28 win over Portugal in March to finish second in the Rugby Europe Championship.

It was only the second time they had qualified for the global showpiece tournament, but the sport’s governing body, World Rugby, launched an investigation after a complaint was filed by Romania, who had missed out on automatic qualification after finishing just behind Spain in the group.

According to a source close to the Spanish federation, the investigation found that Gavin van den Berg, who is of South African origin, had falsified his date of entry into Spain in order to comply with eligibility requirements.

Reuters has contacted Van den Berg’s club, Alcobendas Rugby, to seek comment from the player. The club said they would schedule a crisis meeting on Thursday “to discuss the repercussions of the player’s acts that led to the disqualification of the Spain team.”

Spain were fined £25,000 (€29,600), World Rugby said, and stripped of five points for each of the two games in which Van den Berg played, causing them to miss out on qualification.

“The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time and will shortly call a press conference to offer all the explanations that are required,” the federation said in a statement.

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