Carmen Castellucci Exclusive: A Spanish gem in the Gloucester-Hartpury circus

Castellucci feels very much at home with Gloucester-Hartpury

Gloucester-Hartpury and Bristol Bears will wrestle on Saturday for the right to lift the Premiership Women’s Rugby trophy, with the Cherry and Whites having the chance to keep the title after winning it in 2023. 

In a squad packed with international stars, there sits one who has risen through the ranks after excelling for the Spanish national team; Carmen Castellucci. 

The 21-year-old is a vibrant and talented unit and has helped Gloucester-Hartpury reach the PWR final for a second successive year in what has felt like a dream come true. 

“For me, it was always my dream to play in the Premiership,” she tells TRU. “I saw myself playing there when I would be at my best and highest level, with 26 or 27-year-olds but it happened much earlier than what I was expecting. 

“I am happy to be here as this is the best club-wise competition, and I hope more Spanish talent have the same opportunities that other nations had.”

Castellucci started her career in Spain, having played as a senior player in CR Cisneros, moving to Sevilla, before leaving her home nation to play abroad. Her father was the decisive factor in starting her life as a rugby player.

“I used to play basketball, but my father was a big reason for me changing to rugby as he played rugby for a long time,” she says.

 “We play in the same position, and it’s special as I used to watch him play a lot as a veteran. My parents have always been with me in this journey and came to see me play in the semi-final [v Exeter Chiefs] and it was very nice for me to have them at that game.

“I didn’t plan to move that much actually. When I moved to Cisneros as a 16-year-old, I planned to study and enrol in the university. When COVID struck, I was forced to go back home and play for Sevilla, which I did for a time, before finally moving to France. It started as a gap year experience, and I loved so much my time there that I extended it, even if my parents weren’t that happy with my decision! 

“Then Gloucester-Hartpury came by, and I couldn’t say no as opportunities like this don’t come every day especially when they are one of the best teams in the world.”

In 2023, Gloucester-Hartpury sent an invitation to the Spanish international to join the club, which she immediately said yes to even if there was a chance she might not play at all.

“My initial thought when I joined Gloucester was that I wouldn’t have that much game time, as the team was stacked with Red Roses players so I took it as a learning experience,” she says.

“Gloucester was able to keep the same team from the last two seasons, which helped us to create a better connection between players. With the facilities we have and conditions, it helps us to enjoy it more and improve and the results speak for themselves. 

“The club looks after us, and the board has the vision to set the same standard for both the men and women which will be an improvement for times to come.

“For me, I came back after the WXV 3 this season [with Spain] and it all clicked. The first game at home [v Leicester Tigers] was a unique moment. We were playing at home, with the stands packed and a great atmosphere welcoming us. I was impressed by it and loved it.”

As Castellucci says, Gloucester-Hartpury’s results do speak for themselves with Sean Lynn’s side losing just one game all season en route to the final.

And the connection between the players is an element which has underpinned the club’s rise and that has also helped Castellucci grow as an individual.

 “I am pretty shy so you have to imagine my reaction when I had my first contact with Zoe Aldcroft and Alex Matthews, ‘Oh okay, I am just sharing the locker room with some of the best players in the world!’ 

“I was nervous. I watched them play on TV and never imagined I would share the same club and team with them. For me, it is unbelievable this experience just to be on the same level of focus and hard work. Sometimes the best players aren’t the best mates, but in this case, they are and it is special for me.”

When challenged to also define her club, the utility forward was quick to answer: “How would I define Gloucester-Hartpury? We have the biggest world ‘Circus’, so that’s one. Hard work would be the second as we are very engaged in what we are doing and the third, I would say… inspiration. Lynnie [Sean Lynn] says to us all the time ‘You have the license to inspire’, as we have the power to inspire the community. The city is very engaged with the team and is incredibly passionate about the club.” 

Those of a Cherry and Whites persuasion will be hoping to end the campaign by retaining their crown on Saturday but for Castellucci, her season won’t be over after the final as Spain will play a make-or-break match against Wales for the chance to join the second division of the WXV and qualify for the 2025 Rugby World Cup.

“Obviously you need to know the team you are playing against, and I think we are coming from a very positive momentum. We have been working together for the past three weeks while most of the Welsh players are still or have been involved with the Premiership which can make a difference in the end. 

“I know if it happens, people will see it as a big shock, but we defeated Ireland in the past Rugby World Cup qualifier. We are a team that works hard and that knows how to function as a team. Wales might have a slight advantage in the physicality front, but we are quicker, like to have the ball in our hands, and we will turn it into an advantage for us.

“The chance to qualify for the World Cup will be massive. The last time was traumatic, with some of our veterans retiring. We have been rebuilding since then, and it will be a great opportunity to qualify for the next RWC. I think if we got more opportunities, investment, facilities and the such in Spain, the women’s game will grow and we will move closer to the top nations.

“Playing at a World Cup is one of the two biggest dreams and goals I have, with the other one being to win a Premiership. I would love to reach both in a row, but first I have to focus on the game first.”

Since representing Spain against Kenya, Fiji and Ireland back in October, Castellucci has accumulated the minutes for Gloucester-Hartpury and has featured in their last two games.

But now the attention is on Saturday’s final at Sandy Park as the Cherry and Whites target back-to-back titles.

“The final is always 50/50, as it is the best two teams in the league,” she says. “Bristol is an excellent team that beat Saracens in the semi-final, a team that won against us in the last match of the regular season. 

“But we are confident about that match. We respect Bristol, but we feel motivated, as we work well as a team and have only lost one match this season. We are looking forward to that final as our team is in a good position and focused on our identity. It will be a great spectacle for everyone.”