World Rugby wants to 'understand context' of Romanian referee controversy in Spain loss

Spanish players confront Vlad Iordachescu at the final whistle in Brussels. LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/AFP/Getty Images

World Rugby has revealed it has contacted Rugby Europe (RE) to "understand the context of events" that led to the ugly scenes that marred Spain's defeat to Belgium on Sunday.

Aggrieved Spanish players confronted Romanian referee Vlad Iordăchescu at the end of an 18-10 loss that handed the official's countrymen automatic qualification for the 2019 Rugby World Cup at Spain's expense.

The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) copied World Rugby into a complaint it lodged with RE following Sunday's match in which it included footage of alleged injustices.

As a Rugby Europe Championship match it was up to the organisers to select the officials for the match, not World Rugby, but the game's global governing body is looking into the matter given it doubled as such a pivotal qualifier.

"While World Rugby does not appoint match officials for the Rugby Europe Championship, it is in contact with Rugby Europe to understand the context of events relating to the Belgium v Spain match in Brussels on Sunday, which doubled as an important RWC 2019 qualifier," a statement released via social media read.

Spanish rugby officials were left incensed by events in Brussels, and point to a penalty count that weighed heavily in the hosts' favour as evidence of foul play.

In an official statement released on Sunday FER stated it had asked for the referee and his assistants for the clash to be changed on Feb. 19 -- the day after Spain beat Romania -- but that complaint was dismissed.

World Rugby will now investigate what happened, but there is little precedent for what sanctions could follow, while it will not be straightforward to prove whether Iordăchescu's performance was anything more sinister than poor.

"Romania needed Spain to lose for them to go to the World Cup, and obviously, a Romanian official was not the most suitable thing for this match," a FER statement released Sunday night read.

"The response was that the assignment of officials was made several weeks in advance, and that the official formed a part of the RE panel, therefore changes could not be made. However, the match commissioner did change, becoming Michel Arpaillange.

"Both the President of the Committee of Referees and the match commissioner of the encounter warned the referee that his performance would be analysed closely and that they expected complete neutrality.

"The FER will present an official complaint to Rugby Europe, with a copy to World Rugby, for the Referee Commission of Rugby Europe (RE) to review video of the match to see if the refereeing has been deliberately partial to favour Romania, and if so, to act accordingly.

"Equally, the FER laments the reactions from some of its players, who did not control their emotions at the end of the game."

RE insisted it "has always operated the highest standards of match official selection" in a statement released following the match in which it claimed Iordăchescu had been selected by an independent panel.

"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," the RE statement continued.