The United States' upcoming Summer Series matchup against Russia has its own Rugby World Cup-tinged flavor now, and it's all because a bunch of Belgians, Spaniards, and Romanians got angry.
Of course, most Eagles fans know that the USA qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup almost a year ago. That's been good news for the Eagles, as they have been able to prepare for Tokyo for longer than usual, continuing with this Saturday's test vs. Russia in Denver.
However, the Russians just found out they will be going to Japan, too, and learned the news in a strange way.
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It all started on March 18 when Belgium hosted Spain during the final weekend of the Rugby Europe Championship, which is a second tier behind the Six Nations. Spain looked set to claim second behind Georgia and, as a result, secure an automatic spot in the World Cup.
But, the game didn't go as planned. Belgium played with tenacity, and Spain got impatient. The Spanish got into penalty trouble—a lot of penalty trouble—and after the game, an 18-10 Belgium victory, blamed the referee.
The Spanish players did not coat themselves with glory in how they reacted after the game, but many felt they had a beef. The refereeing team, after all, was made up of officials from Romania, and a Spanish loss would mean Romania, not Spain, would get that second World Cup place.
After Rugby Europe was unable to resolve the issue, World Rugby got involved. And the upshot was even uglier. Belgium was found to have used ineligible players. Romania was found to have used ineligible players. In addition, Spain was found to have used ineligible players. There was no way anyone was going to replay all the games in which these teams fielded players who shouldn't have been on the field.
So, instead, World Rugby decided to deduct five standings points for every game in which a team fielded ineligible players. The result was a points bloodbath, with Romania dropping to last place with minus-11 points. Spain ended up with minus-7, and Belgium finished with minus-6.
The team left standing? Russia. The Russians went 2-3, losing close games to Spain, Romania, and Georgia and beating Belgium and Germany.
Having finished second by virtue of not cheating, the Bears take the Europe 1 spot (Georgia had already qualified).
All of that means there is much at stake in this weekend's clash between the U.S. and Russia. There's a burgeoning rivalry that has overheated at times. There's the international rivalry that hasn't really cooled off over the decades. And now, this is a clash of two World Cup teams looking to start their campaigns.