The Spanish play rugby! Who knew? In this football-obsessed country, rugby union is so far down the sport pecking order you’d be forgiven for failing to notice it at all. But here in Villajoyosa, rugby is alive and kicking.
CR La Vila is actually one of the dozen best teams in Spain and a home game at their stadium is a great way of spending a Sunday afternoon.
It costs just €5 to see a match at the Estadio del Pantano, a few minutes drive out of town on the road inland to Orxeta. Kids under 12 get in free. The ground is surprisingly modern; I’m guessing more than a few clubs back in the UK would love the facilities they have here.
The crowd is usually a friendly mix of local rugby fans and expat or tourist Brits getting their rugby fix. Buy yourself a beer or something off the barbecue and enjoy the match. For UK rugby followers, watching a game here in the sunshine certainly beats the biting wind and driving rain back home. And the quality of the rugby is pretty good too.
The first team, a mixture of home grown players with a sprinkling of overseas talent, plays in the top flight of Spanish rugby, the División de Honor. They won promotion literally at the last minute last season, thanks to a last-gasp converted try in the play-off finals.
Competing in the big league hasn’t been easy so far: La Vila took three matches to register their first win of 2017, and they’re currently hovering just above the play-off zone. Check how they’re doing here. Find the fixture list here or follow the club on Facebook here.
Clearly rugby is never going to take the place of football – or even basketball – in the heart of your average Spanish sports fan. The Spanish movie star Javier Bardem, who was a rugby player in his younger days and even made it into the national team, was once quoted as saying; “being a rugby player in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan”. He had a point.
On the way to a solid home win against Biskaia Gernika, Feb 2018
A tough home defeat against Ampo Ordizia
But the game has a firm footing here; the 2018 European Champions Cup final will be held in Spain; sadly, on the other side of the country in Bilbao.
The national men’s side – Los Leones – plays in the second tier of European rugby, one below the Six Nations, against the likes of Russia and Georgia. And they’re doing pretty well too. In February 2018, they pulled off a terrific win against Romania and are now in a good position to qualify for the World Cup in Japan for the first time in 20 years. La Vila’s captain Javi Carrión is in the side. The Spanish sevens team also played at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The Spanish women’s team – Las Leonas – qualified for the 2017 World Cup in Ireland. They finished third in their group, managing a good win against Italy, but suffered heavy defeats at the hands of England and the USA.
CR La Vila runs teams for women and a range of age groups, as well as hosting an international sevens tournament at the end of the season.
© Guy Pelham 2018