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, just up the coast from Alicante, rugby is alive and kicking.
CR La Vila is actually one of the best teams in Spain – quite something for a little town like ours. A home game at their stadium is a great way of spending a Sunday afternoon.
And despite the disruption of Covid-19, La Vila have had a terrific season. They haven’t lost a single match and topped it all off in May 2021 with promotion to the elite division of Spanish rugby, the División de Honor, after a nail-biting 26-22 play-off victory against Gernika from the Basque Country.
Scrum down against Babarians Calviá from Mallorca. The first home game of the Covid-affected 2020/1 season and a 31-7 win.
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 stadium and the next-door sports centre are great – I’m guessing more than a few clubs back in the UK would love the facilities they have here.
Some come here for warm-weather training; Super League side Leeds Rhinos were here in January 2020. World Rugby were due to hold the under-20 world championships in La Vila in September 2020 until Covid-19 got in the way, and Spain’s national mens’ team are due to play Russia here in July 2021.
The crowd is usually a friendly mix of local fans and expat or tourist Brits getting their rugby fix. Buy yourself a beer or something off the barbecue and enjoy the match.
For British rugby watchers, a game in the sunshine of La Vila certainly beats the biting wind and driving rain back home. And the quality of the rugby is not bad either.
The first team is a mixture of home grown players with a sprinkling of overseas talent, mostly from South America – though this season, a couple of Welsh players have made quite an impact. And come September 2021, they’ll be competing with the best teams in Spain in the División de Honor. That’s pretty good going for a team this far south in Spain, a long way from the rugby heartlands up near the French border.
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 played rugby himself in his younger days, was once quoted as saying; “being a rugby player in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan”. He had a point.
But the game has a firm footing in Spain. The 2018 European Champions Cup final was held in Bilbao. And Spain’s sevens team even managed to beat the mighty All Blacks in a World Rugby Sevens Series match in March 2019. Highlights here are worth a watch – the Spanish players look as if they can’t quite believe it!
Los Leones – the Spanish men’s national side – are ranked 19 in the world and play in the second tier of European rugby, one below the Six Nations, against the likes of Belgium, Russia and Romania. It’s a league dominated by Georgia who are clearly a cut above the rest, but Spain usually manages second or third place behind them. Sadly, Los Leones lost to Romania, Georgia and Portugal in quick succession during March 2021, which leaves qualification for the 2023 World Cup looking very unlikely.
The Spanish women’s team – Las Leonas – have fared rather better. They won the Rugby Europe championship, one step below the Six Nations, in March 2019 (the last time it was played) and are ranked tenth in the world, ahead of top-flight rugby nations like South Africa and Scotland. Las Leonas were here in Villajoyosa in autumn 2020 for a match against an Iberdrola XV.
Rugby in Spanish
If you’re ever in a Spanish rugby conversation, here are a few words to help you through. One or two might be Argentinian equivalents. If I’ve got any wrong, feel free to leave a note in comments!
- Forwards: delanteros ‘el pack de delanteros’ – the pack
- Three quarters/backs: tres cuartos
- Scrum: la melé
- Ruck: el ruck
- Maul: maul
- Lineout: una touch (pronounced ‘tooch’)
- Lineout throw not straight: balón desviado
- Penalty: golpe de castigo
- Try: ensayo
- Penalty try: ensayo de castigo
- Offside: fuera de juego
- Conversion: transformación
- Advantage: ventaja
- Red/yellow card: tarjeta roja/amarilla
- Sin bin: sin bin
- Foul play – juego sucio
- Knock on: knock-on
- Forward pass: avant
- Throw in: tiro
- Drop kick: un drop/puntapié de botepronte
- Mark: mark
- To tackle: placar
- A tackle: un placaje
- High tackle: placaje alto
- Referee: árbitro
- Touch judge: juez de línea/asistente del árbitro
- Half time: intermedio
- Match: partido/encuentro
- Draw: partido empatado
- First half: primera parte
- Second half: segunda parte
- Phase: fase
- The posts: los palos. Tiro a palos: have a shot at the posts
- Pick and go: pick and go!