With the Champions Cup called off, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only top-flight Union of note on the continent was taking place in France. However, despite Covid and Filomena, a hardy bunch have kept this Spanish Rugby Union season on the road.
División de Honor Rugby: race for the Spanish crown is heating up
First, a brief primer. Spanish Rugby Union has always been a poor relation to its French counterpart but that shouldn’t take away from the continuing work to keep the game going. The game has traditionally found players and supporters on the Basque and Catalan borders that sit next to France.
In recent times, Valladolid has become something of a hub for the game and it is here where the game has its strongest foundations. A successful seven’s team that competes in the HSBC World Sevens provides further exposure but Covid has already put the game in Cantabria (a region which last season boasted two top-flight teams) on life support. Still, the game and it’s small but passionate supporters march on.
Despite snowstorms, plenty of action this week
Two games stood out this weekend, with the battle at the top of the table showing what a fiercely competitive top-flight competition Spanish Rugby Union has now developed. VRAC, the dominant force in modern Spanish Union, took on Alcobendas in a top of the table clash.
Once again, the fact this match even took place can be considered a triumph and an example of that disparity in finances mentioned earlier. The immense effort that volunteers and supporters went to in getting the game on was rewarding in a thrilling contest.
👏 Muchas gracias a todos los voluntarios del @VRAC y empleados de @DeportesVLL que harán posible la disputa del encuentro, así como a los socios y aficionados por la paciencia pic.twitter.com/QWT9v5HUKW
— VRAC 🏴 🧀 (@VRAC) January 17, 2021
A game that was neck and neck the whole way would come down to one decisive kick. Baltazar Taibo kicked what everyone thought was a match-winning penalty putting VRAC into a 19-17 lead over the visitors. But in the last minute, a quick tap and go from Alcobendas led to a penalty that Javier Lopez would put over with the final kick of the game, Alcobendas would inflict a first defeat of the season on VRAC.
Meanwhile, in the slightly sunnier climate of Barcelona, another nail-biter between Barca Rugby and El Salvador (the other powerhouse of Spanish rugby who, like VRAC, are also based in Vallodolid.) would also be decided by the boot. With the last kick of the game, Otger Sirvent would step up but look on in despair as his penalty would fall just short of the posts, meaning El Salvador would sneak a 29-28 win in a game that featured eight tries.
🗞️ Tensión y tesón para vencer
📸 AVR Barça Rugbihttps://t.co/RDVMHOfECQ
— SilverStorm El Salvador🏉 (@Chami_Rugby) January 17, 2021
National league ‘Grabbing Eyeballs’ for Spanish Rugby Union
A barrel full of tries, two incredibly close games, and the fact that you could throw a duvet (it’s quite cold in parts of Spain at the moment) over the top six have all combined to make this one of the most competitive División de Honor seasons in years. So why then, before you stumbled across this, had you not heard of it?
In a football-obsessed country, the problem for the Spanish Rugby Union has always been one of exposure and a lack of Rugby World Cup qualification has put a lid on growth. That is not to say there is no market for the game.
Well attended finals and internationals mean that the game does have a foundation to build from and if the ridiculous events of the last World Cup qualification had not been inflicted upon them (more on that another time), then it would have put rocket fuel under the sport here.
In many ways, 2021 represents’ year zero’ for Spanish Rugby, and with exciting internationals coming up; including a select team from New Zealand in a year where people will be desperate to attend live events, the sport of rugby union still has a pulse.
Look forward to more regular updates on División de Honor rugby, and the state of the game in Spain. Last Word on Rugby hope to offer more coverage of the sport in Western Europe with contributions from writers like Edward Anderson.
“Main photo credit”
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