Spanish Rugby RWC self-immolation

Spanish Rugby RWC self-immolation
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In what feels like a lifetime ago, LWOS began to feature Rugby Europe Qualification coverage. Team’s right across Europe had high hopes, and Spanish Rugby RWC hopes were high – that was until what can be described as self-immolation that has all but spoiled those ambitions.

It cannot be overstated just how important qualifying for the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) in France was to Spanish Rugby. A world of commercial opportunities would open up, with the tournament taking place ‘up the road’. In close proximity to two of Spanish Rugby’s heartlands; the Basque Country and Catalonia. With the ease of travel, thousands of Spaniards would have flocked over the border to support their team. Spain vs Ireland, Spain vs South Africa. The Rugby world would be witness to the improved strength of Los Leones.

Over the last months of qualifying matches, Spain performed extremely well and had secured their place for the upcoming tournament. Celebrations were planned and the dream of the national side playing against the very best seemed to be really happening. Drawing in millions of viewers and creating a generation of new fans, players, and sponsors alike.

Instead, the Spanish Rugby RWC self-immolation cycle that appears every four years struck yet again.

It is with aching sadness that fans of Spanish rugby heard that World Rugby sanctioned penalties for ineligible players [again] ending hopes of being involved in the French event. So therefore, it cannot be understated just how damaging Spain’s self-inflicted wound has done to the sport. Everything mentioned above now disappears and Spanish Rugby’s worst amateurish tendencies condemn the sport to a decade of irrelevance.

Having witnessed the joy of players on that incredible day when Portugal were vanquished, fellow Spanish Rugby observer and El Mundo journalist Sanitiago Santi brilliantly breaks down the anger, frustration, and fury of players who have had a lifetime of work robbed by the guilty men.

Spanish Rugby RWC self-immolation

One of the people involved was Gavin van den Berg, the South African whose eligibility (or lack thereof) was what led to the sanctions, with him being out of the country for longer than the permitted time. He has now ghosted his teammates, and the fallout has damaged the reputation of Alconbendas coach, José Ignacio Inchausti Bravo (Tiki) and in all honesty, the team itself.

Alcobendas have seen their Cup final postponed and possibly going to get booted. They have seen their Division de Honor quarter-final postponed. The club, nor their coach, has commented on the matter so far. A club that has done such much good for the sport in Madrid now sees its name in the dirt.

For Tiki, it’s a personal tragedy for a man who played in Spain’s last RWC appearance and was widely tipped to be the natural successor to the Head Coach role over the next four-year cycle. Now, who would want to be involved in another Spanish Rugby RWC campaign? The current Spanish coach was roundly booed by 40,000 people at the Wando last weekend.

Although the Federation might want to throw the book at Alconbendas, the President of the Federation would’ve been better looking in the mirror. This is twice it has happened under the watch of Alfonso Feijoo García. Four years after being booted due to the policy of importing foreigners, the Federation continued to run that risky strategy.

‘Take a look in the Mirror’ Rugby Spain

The soon-to-be ex-President Feijoo stated at a press conference, “We are responsible but not guilty”. Which is exactly the quote you would expect from a man taking absolutely no responsibility – just like four years ago.

There is a wider point about the game’s philosophy here. If after eight years of your presidency you are putting down a selection policy that says ‘getting a South African in to play against the weakest team in the competition’ is a good option, then you have failed to put a serious pathway in place for the thousands of Spanish players you do have. You (the Federation) are admitting that your own leadership has failed.

Spain has 47 million people, their competitors for the second World Cup spot are Romania, a resurgent Portugal, and Holland. The population; and therefore potential player pool, of those three combined is lower than Spain’s. What message are you sending to the next generation of Spanish youngsters in promoting the game that: if you work your socks off, give up a chance to play across the border and snap up French eligibility (after five years), and if you suck up long thankless journeys to Tbilisi as your reward, all you will get is to be replaced by a bunch of mercenaries? No wonder it is hard to see anyone taking up the game with that approach.

Therefore it was with all these emotions of anger, sorrow, and recrimination that Spanish rugby made good efforts to dust itself down recently. How you might ask? In a ‘celebration´ of rugby against a Classic All Blacks side.

40,000 Reasons to believe in Spanish Rugby´s future

Twice-delayed due to Covid, this exhibition game was promoted by KiwiHouse. Many would appreciate the event as repairing some of the damage done yet for others, what could they achieve? Festival or Funeral, which one would it be? They got much much more.

Thanks to the incredible work of KiwiHouse in bringing many World Cup winners and International names to the occasion, the fast-flowing exhibition that fans enjoyed this weekend has gone a long way to removing the feeling of self-destruction in Spanish rugby.

The 40,000 people who crammed into a boiling hot Wando Metropolitan Stadium were thoroughly entertained. And when Spain crossed for the first try, the sky broke, thunder cracked and the heavens opened up. It was impossible not to think that when it rains, it pours on Spanish Rugby (though the match was played in great spirit).

The result itself didn’t matter but what was important was, the incredible reception both sets of players received. The sounds of men tackling and stampeding across the field in this modern-day coliseum, it was a big day that the Spanish players deserved. The scale of what KiwiHouse achieved is almost incomprehensible. A crowd of 40,000 (probably the highest crowd for a Spanish National game since before the civil war) was sensational.

In Spanish Rugby´s darkest hour, the invited former All Blacks and even a cameo appearance by superstar Dan Carter, provided the game its brightest moment in decades. For many of the players, it also provided a bittersweet send-off that should have been in France.

Where to now for Spanish Rugby?

Well, it clearly is not to France but, the game needs to look ahead.  There are games in Divison de Honor that get 2000-3000 now, Cup finals within the last decade that once filled 25,000 capacity stadiums. Last week’s match showed the ability of Spanish Rugby – when it puts its mind to it – to go beyond merely a game and create a spectacle.

Yes, the Six Nations is a disgraceful cartel and the way the Spanish Women’s team has been treated is shameful. Yes, Spain should be getting a look in at European qualifications and not just pushed to the side with the inclusion of South African franchises. Before any of those arguments can be made though, Spanish Rugby needs to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Stop pushing Spaniards aside for ex-nationals. Self-immolation is simply a metaphor for much that is currently wrong in the game.

After this latest Spanish Rugby RWC self-immolation, what it needs is a phoenix. The fans and the players of Rugby Union in this country deserve better, who will give it to them?

 

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