Spain have been kicked out of the men's Rugby World Cup for the second successive tournament after being found to have fielded an ineligible player during their qualification campaign, with the player in question accused of possessing an allegedly forged passport used to qualify to play for Spain on residency.
An independent judicial committee appointed by World Rugby found that Gavin van den Berg, Spain's South African-born prop, had been selected by Spain before he had qualified on three-year residency grounds.
As a result, Spain have been fined £75,000 (NZ$143,971) - £25,000 for the latest incident and £50,000 relating to a previous eligibility breach ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup - but also crucially deducted 10 match points, causing the side to fall out of second place in the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship and therefore miss out on qualification for the Rugby World Cup.
Describing the sanction from World Rugby as "very harsh", the Spanish rugby federation added that error regarding Van den Berg's eligibility had come "as a result of an alleged forgery of the aforementioned player's passport".
Van den Berg, who plays for the Alcobendas Rugby Club in Madrid, featured for Spain against the Netherlands in qualification matches for the World Cup in both 2021 and 2022.
Romania, who brought the issue of Van den Berg's eligibility to World Rugby, as a result move up into second place and have qualified for next year's tournament, joining South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and the still to be determined Asia/Pacific 1 qualifier in Pool B.
Meanwhile, Portugal, who previously finished fourth, move up into third place ahead of Spain and qualify for the repechage to win a place in Pool C alongside Wales, Australia, Georgia and Fiji.
Spain's 33-28 win over Portugal back in March sparked joyous scenes in Madrid, with the national side believing they had qualified for their first men's Rugby World Cup since 1999.
Spain also missed out on qualification for the 2019 Rugby World Cup after fielding an ineligible player, along with Romania and Belgium, which led to Russia qualifying to compete at the tournament in Japan.
Analysis: Sorry mess destroys Spanish hopes of a first World Cup in 30 years
The most interesting part about Gavin van den Berg's case might be what comes next as the fallout behind his allegedly forged passport plays out. It's important to lay out the timeline of how Van den Berg went from arriving in Spain to playing for Alcobendas and then representing the national side.
The reason Van den Berg did not meet the residency requirements before he was first called up was due to the fact that he left Spain during those three years for an extended period of time. Players must remain in the country uninterrupted for a period of three years, or 36 months as it was at the time when he first arrived in Spain.
That residency rule of course changed to five years at the end of 2021, but World Rugby's Regulation 8 has always stated that players must "complete 60 consecutive months of residence immediately preceding the time of playing".
The adopted country must be that player's primary home and while holidays do not break residency, World Rugby added that "typically 10 months of physical presence in one year would suffice". Van den Berg reportedly fell short of those criteria, something which was picked up by other unions due to his social media activity, according to Americas Rugby News.
To make matters worse his passport was allegedly forged, with the alleged false documentation suggesting Van den Berg was eligible for selection then allegedly supplied by the player and his club, Alcobendas, to the Spanish rugby federation and World Rugby to verify his registration.
Adding insult to injury for Spain is the fact that Van den Berg barely featured in their Rugby Europe Championship matches over the last two years, making just two appearances and both against one of the weaker sides in the Netherlands. Van den Berg played only 36 minutes in the game against the Netherlands earlier this year, a comfortable 43-0 win.
For this to happen to Spain for the second Rugby World Cup cycle in a row almost stretches credulity, and yet you have to feel for the players and staff who had no idea, even for the union itself who believed that Van den Berg's allegedly falsified documents were accurate.
Romania, who now qualify, stated that "we can say that justice has been done" and you can see why given Van den Berg should never have played at all for Spain in the first place until he was eligible.
Spain, Romania and Belgium were all affected by this issue four years ago and the fact it has now happened again with Spain ahead of 2023 is hardly a good look for the sport as a whole, hence the tough stance taken by World Rugby including enforcing the suspended £50,000 fine Spain were given for their previous offence building up to 2019.
Spain, as Le Figaro reported this week, attempted to avoid this sanction by suggesting to World Rugby that they would cancel Van den Berg's visa and relegate Alcobendas to the Spanish second division.
That may happen now anyway as retribution against Van den Berg for potentially (if the alleged false documents charges are proven) destroying Spanish plans and dreams of attending a first men's Rugby World Cup in over 30 years, denying players and coaches and spectators the opportunity of a lifetime. What a sorry mess.