The Rugby Europe XVs Championship kicks off this weekend, with a place in WXV on the line, and expansion plans for the future.
Sweden warmed up for the European Championship with a game against the British Army
The 27th Women’s European Rugby Championship kicks off in Amsterdam this weekend with potentially one of the most interesting tournaments we have seen for some years.
It also offers one of the biggest prizes for a decade, and welcomes back one of the international game’s oldest teams.
And this is just the start.
Everything begins in Amsterdam on Saturday (16:00 local time, 15:00 GMT, Live Stream) when the Netherlands hosts Sweden.
This used to be a regular fixture, the two teams meeting 18 times between 1984 and 2014, with the Dutch winning 15 and the Swedes three. But Sweden have not played in this championship since 2013, and have not played the Netherlands since 2014.
There were a number of reasons for Sweden stepping away from test rugby for the better part of six years (they played just two tests between 2013 and 2019), including the rise of sevens and financial problems in the Swedish union, but they returned to competitive rugby in 2019. Since then, they have lost only one test and led by Claire Cruikshank swept to the European Trophy last season, winning promotion back to the Championship.
Sweden warmed up last month with a game against the British Army This weekend will be the next big test for the team as, with former assistant coach Tamara Taylor in full charge for the first time. The squad includes players who ply their trade in six different countries, including three from clubs in England and two players from France’s Elite 1
The Netherlands have struggled in recent years, dropping to third place in the Championship in 2020 having finished as runners-up to Spain from 2016 to 2019. They will be hoping to end that trend and have a squad that includes five players with whose rugby careers lie outside the Netherlands, with two at English clubs and three in Elite 1.
Playing at home and with a decade of experience at this level, the Dutch will begin as favourites but with no recent form guides this will be a fascinating game to watch.
Rugby Europe’s commitment to this tournament is illustrated by the level of coverage they will give to this match, and the two games that will follow in Spain over the following two weeks. “We place this tournament in the highest possible regards”, a spokesman told us this week”. Although there are only three teams competing, we keep exactly the same standards, on and off the pitch, as we do for our men’s competition.
“It’s the same level of production, with English commentary with highlights produced shortly afterwards, we are looking forward to see the women’s game continuing to take strides forward and hopefully the introduction of World Rugby’s XV competition will add to that growth.
They are delighted to Sweden back at the competition.
“Sweden is a country with really good rugby potential, and they fully deserve their spot at the top table. As is the case in the men’s Championship, we want to be able to grow rugby across Europe and understand that this takes time, but it also takes being exposed to the best that you can be.
“We’ve seen that they have drawn great crowds for their home games, and that’s important too from a commercial perspective.”
Despite all this it is Spain who start as clear the favourites to lift the overall title. Champions in every tournament they have entered since 2013, they are at such a level that they have only conceded three tries in the competition since 2016.
This may be a period of rebuilding for Spain both a new coaching team lead by Juan González and a number of new names on the field, but it would be a massive shock if their failed to lift their ninth continental title. Spain are a nation good enough to play and beat Six Nations teams
They warm-up with a full test match and an U20 fixture against Italy in Barcelona this weekend (Spain squad, Italy squads), the formation of a U20 squad being a big step forward for Spain as look to the future after the disappointment of missing last year’s World Cup.
Several of Spain’s leading players will be absent as part of their World Series sevens team, and Lea Ducher is absent due to injury, rising star Tecla Masoko will be one to look out for.
Looking further ahead to next season, Rugby Europe revealed that the competition is due to expand in 2023/24.
“The winner of this season’s European Trophy will play in the 2023-24 Championship with no one relegated from Championship, expanding the competition to four teams. And we want to continue to expand.
“Spain have shown us how good their women’s set up and I think that needs to be the blueprint for many other international sides at fifteens level. For them to keep progressing they also need competitive fixtures.
“Portugal currently top of the table, they’ve shown some real promise too did well against Sweden in a friendly last year.”
We also asked about the long-term ambitions of Rugby Europe for the Championship. Could it ever include Six Nations teams, as it used every four years up to 2012?
“We would love this to happen, but we need to see what World Rugby’s plans are for their new competition and will keep a close dialogue with them to try and get a robust structure in place to ensure the women’s game keeps pushing forward.”
11th February: Netherlands v Sweden (Amsterdam), 1500 GMT/ 1600 Local
19th February: Spain v Netherlands (Barcelona), 1300 GMT/ 1400 Local
25th February: Spain v Sweden (Alicante), 1600 GMT/ 1700 Local
11th February: Spain U20 v Italy U20 (Barcelona), 1200 GMT/1300 Local
11th February: Spain v Italy (Barcelona), 1600 GMT/1700 Local