BRUSSELS – Romania qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in unexpected circumstances as Spain missed out on an automatic place by suffering a shock 18-10 defeat away to Belgium in their last game in the Rugby Europe Championship on Sunday.
Romania finished second in the standings on 14 points, one above Spain, who would have qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1999 if they had beaten Belgium.
Georgia finished top of the standings with 19 points, but had already sealed their World Cup place, meaning no points from their games counted towards qualification.
Romania won their last competitive game by beating Belgium 62-12 last Saturday, and lost an effective friendly against Georgia 25-16 on Sunday.
Spain will now need to beat Portugal in a playoff and then win a two-legged tie against Samoa in order to reach the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
If they beat Portugal but lose to Samoa, they will play in a four-team repechage in November in a last attempt to qualify for the competition.
Spain had hammered Belgium 30-0 in Madrid in the 2017 edition, and were overwhelming favourites to beat them again and reach the World Cup after thrashing Germany 84-10 in their previous outing having also beaten Romania.
Yet they rarely got going on a mud-caked pitch in Brussels and ugly confrontations broke out at the final whistle as members of the Spanish coaching staff tried to restrain their players, who were angered by Belgium’s exuberant celebrations.
Not helped by a poor pitch worsened by snow in Brussels the night before, Santiago Santos’s side struggled against a much-changed Belgium team, who took a 12-0 lead at halftime.
Another penalty further bolstered the home side’s lead in the 50th minute, and Spain only came alive with 10 minutes remaining, forcing the only try of the game through Gautier Gibouin.
Mathieu Peluchon scored the conversion and soon after converted a penalty to take Spain to within five points of levelling, but a sixth successful penalty by Belgium’s Vincent Hart definitively killed off their hopes of a comeback.