I watched most of the Belgium v Spain game live on a REC stream on Sunday and have watched it again since. The referee, Vlad Iordachescu, in my opinion, was absolutely bloody rubbish and seriously impacted on Spain’s ability to even contest the game, but that’s just my opinion. I’ve played in, watched and reported thousands of games of rugby and, along the way, you encounter all sorts of appalling refs. In amateur sport you have to deal with it.
What I didn’t realise initially, because there were no commentaries and graphics with the stream and until my phone started going mad with messages from disbelieving mates, is that the referee and his two assistants were all from Romania, the one country that stood to gain massively from a Spain defeat. Spain’s loss has not only resulted in Romania qualifying for the World Cup, it means that they play in the opening game against Japan in front of a global audience of hundreds of millions. Sunday’s match in Brussels was not a game of park rugby, it was the most important game of rugby on the planet last weekend outside of the Six Nations.
I was gobsmacked. How could this ever be allowed to happen, especially as we soon learnt that the Spanish has lodged an objection to the all-Romanian reffing team nearly a month before. It was, is and will always be totally and completely unacceptable for this to have happened
To put it in context, say England and New Zealand were in the same World Cup pool and there was just one place left for the quarter-finals and, say, England had to beat Canada to claim that place. To continue the scenario, a New Zealand team of three officials had been appointed, England appeal but are turned down and, for no good reason, the game is also staged with out a TMO or stop clock. And then the Kiwis officials ping England 19-7 in penalties and make a host of other contentious calls. And then Canada win, which allows New Zealand to advance to the quarter-finals and eliminates England. Cue World War 3.
Sunday was unquestionably the most important match in Spain’s rugby history and, at the very least, they had a right for it to be reffed by transparently neutral officials devoid of all conflicting interests. They could have still lost. As stated, you can encounter rubbish refs at anytime and as I wrote in my Rugby Paper preview on Sunday, a feisty Belgium, although big underdogs, were good enough to contest the issue on their compact Petit Heysel ground.
Rugby Europe were officially the organisers and must be called to account, but this was also a Rugby World Cup qualifier and both World Rugby and RWC were all over this match the preceding week pumping out info, previews, pictures and interviews. It was their gig as well and they also need to look in the mirror and ask what the bloody hell happened.