Spanish rugby on the rise

Spain's recent performance in the World Rugby U20 Trophy caught the eye as they finished as runners-up to Samoa
Spain's recent performance in the World Rugby U20 Trophy caught the eye as they finished as runners-up to Samoa
©Espana Rugby

Rugby is on the rise in Spain and that is very good news for the bigger picture of northern hemisphere rugby.

Since their heroics at the Rugby World Cup, every man and his dog has been banging the table for Georgia's inclusion in an expanded Six Nations, or at least given their shot to earn their way into the current tournament with a playoff game against the bottom-placed side.

Whether you like it or not, money plays arguably the biggest role in professional sport and with that in mind, you can empathise as to why the Six Nations are reluctant to admit Georgia. As wonderful a city as Tbilisi may be, it doesn't offer the same commercial opportunities that Rome does. It's a heart-breaking situation for Georgian players and fans but as stands, it seems as if the Six Nations is unwilling to subsidise their inclusion.

However, would they be more receptive if it were Germany or Spain pushing for inclusion? The cities of Berlin, Munich, Madrid and Barcelona would be appealing, as would the economies in both of those countries.

Spanish rugby has been enjoying quite the rise of late and though they only sit 22nd in the world rankings, there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the sport's prospects in the country.

The recent Copa del Rey de Rugby final, Spain's domestic rugby competition, attracted a crowd of over 26,000 at the Estadio Nuevo José Zorrilla in Valladolid and saw SilverStorm El Salvador beat VRAC Quesos Entrepinares, 13-9. The crowd in Valladolid set a Spanish domestic record for attendance.

And speaking of record attendances, the French Top 14 final is set to be held in Barcelona at the iconic Nou Camp and having already sold out, should be played out in front of a capacity 98,000 crowd, obliterating the current club record of 84,068, set by Saracens and Harlequins at Wembley last year.

It's not just off the field where Spanish rugby has been enjoying welcome boons but also on it, where they recently shone at U20 level.

Playing in the World Rugby U20 Trophy for the first time in their history, Spain went undefeated through the pool stage, seeing off the challenges of the USA, Namibia and Hong Kong. They then faced Samoa in the final, who had been in rampaging form in the other pool, comprehensively seeing off Uruguay, Zimbabwe and fellow Islanders Fiji.

The game was ultra-competitive throughout and even at 80 minutes, the two teams couldn't be separated, with a 32-32 score line prompting extra-time. It was Samoa who struck first and won the competition by virtue of 'golden point' scoring rules, but the fact that Spain were able to come this close to qualifying for the premiere Championship competition - at the first time of asking - speaks volumes for the ability levels of the players that Spain are producing.

Spain's senior team currently plays in the 1A division of the European Nations Cup and though Georgia ran away with that competition, winning all 10 of their games, the Spaniards were no pushovers. Romania finished second and although a strong 2015 had put Spain in prime position to secure third, they fell away in 2016 and Russia leapfrogged them into bronze spot. That said, Spain were still well clear of Germany and Portugal in 5th and 6th respectively and were never close to relegation to the 1B division.

It will be interesting to watch Spain over the coming years as the U20 class that came so close to doing the unthinkable this year matures and graduates to senior rugby.

No one wants to see Georgia excluded for financial reasons, but The Lelos greatest hope for future inclusion could well come through more lucrative economies, such as Spain (or Russia or Germany), taking to the sport and improving to a level where they also merit consideration for involvement.

With more money in the pot, rugby's elite would struggle to keep finding excuses to keep teams like Georgia out of the spotlight.