Confirmation this week that Rugby Europe’s Women’s XVs Championship is being revived.
Belgium will meet the Netherlands again in the semi-finals
The decline of the European XVs Championship has been one of the sadder results of the growth of sevens. The world’s oldest international tournament it lead directly to the organisation of the first World Cup, and at its height it featured 16 entrants, including the regular participation by teams from England, France and Italy. Even in World Cup years European Trophy tournaments gave continental teams who were not in the main event something to play for.
In addition, the special quadrennial tournaments – in between World Cups – attracted full-strength squads from all of the Six Nations teams until 2008, allowing the rest of Europe to pit themselves against the elite teams. England, France and Italy were still taking part as recently as 2012.
Since 2012, however – except when it has been used as a World Cup qualifier – the competition has declined with even Spain having no interest. In 2017 – for the first time since 1994 – there was no European XVs tournament at all.
But next year it is back – and stronger with the return of Spain.
Spain, of course, were hoping for something bigger. They had planned and budgeted for a “Four Nations”, with home-and-away games to run alongside the Six Nations, but it is clear that the budgetary restrictions faced by their likely opponents meant keeping to the less ambitious, but far cheaper, two-game (semi-finals/final) model.
As well as the return of Spain, the tournament – which kicks off in Brussels on 27th February - also sees Germany returning to competitive rugby for the first time since 2010 (when they drew with Belgium in the fifth-place playoff). The draw, based on rankings, pits them against Spain in what will be their toughest test since returning to test rugby last year.
In the other semi-final, Belgium take on the Netherlands, repeating the non-test international last month.
At present it is not clear if the other active test teams in Europe – Switzerland, Czechia, Sweden, Finland, or even Russia – will be given any playing opportunities - though it is clear that it is Rugby Europe's intention to run a European Trophy tournament. Without a tournament for these nations to take part in, the further development of their test teams is being severely limited by their ability pay for travel. Support available for playing in tournaments will rarely be forthcoming for friendly fixtures and we already know of invitations involving these nations that have had to be turned down on cost grounds.