It’s over 10 years since Spain were expelled from the Women’s Six Nations. And they are tired of waiting.
The weekend of the 17th/18th March 2006 saw the final round of that year’s Women’s Six Nations. The fifth since it had been expanded in 2002, when Ireland re-joined the tournament, that weekend opened with an historic first win for Wales over France in Pontypridd, taking Wales from sixth in 2005 to a best-ever second place.
At the same time on that Saturday, England beat Ireland at Old Albanians in Hertfordshire to win their first title, and Grand Slam, for three years – a perfect start to a year that would include the World Cup in Canada.
The only thing that remained in question was the Wooden Spoon, and that was decided the following day when Scotland narrowly edged Spain 16-12 in Madrid. The teams left the field at La Ciudad Universitaria, and Spain’s seven years in the tournament came to an end.
That wooden spoon, and the 175 points Spain conceded in their five games that year perhaps colours how they are remembered, giving the impression that they lost their place in the championship due to their performance. Yet it was unrepresentative of their record. Two years before they had been third, winning three of their five games. They had also finished third in 2000 and 2001, and fourth in 2002 and 2005. Their record for the period was, in fact, significantly better than that of both Ireland and Wales, winning nearly a third of their games.
In fact, Spain’s departure from the Six Nations was nothing whatsoever to do with their team at all. Instead they were replaced in 2007 by Italy – a team they had not lost to for nearly 12 years – because the Six Nations Committee said that Italy played in the men’s tournaments, not Spain, so Italy must also play in the women’s competition.
To say that this astonishingly unjust decision has rankled with the Spanish ever since would be something of an understatement. Ever since March 2006 Spain have been trying to get back into the Six Nations, but – despite being ranked in the top six teams in Europe for some years – the organisers of this “private competition” (as the Spanish invariably describe it) have shown no interest. In the end, regardless of the justice of Spain’s case, the six nations inside the tournament have shown an understandable lack of enthusiasm in risking replacing them in rugby exile.
After Spain was again rebuffed this winter, despite qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Scotland, it appears that they decided to take their fate into their own hands. Accounts suggest that discussions with World Rugby and Rugby Europe were launched (and are ongoing) with the Spanish demanding first that the “private competition” no longer be given so many automatic spots in the World Cup, and that women’s competition for Spain and other exiled European teams be launched.
Patricia Garcia and Spanish coach Jose Antonio Barrio (“Yunque”) have both appeared on Spanish radio discussing a possible Four Nations tournament. At the start of June Patricia pointed out that “countries like Netherlands, Germany and Russia had been developing their rugby in the last few years”.
“If Spain that we cannot achieve a place in the 6 Nations”, Patricia continued, “hopefully we will have a B competition that will develop European international 15s rugby more than the some of the recent low level European XV Trophy competitions. And of course, such a Four Nations should be open to countries that can beat the bottom team, so that they are encouraged to work hard to for the opportunity to play on the Four Nations every year”.
A couple of weeks later things seem to had moved forward and “Yunque” spoke with even greater confidence about a tournament that would include Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden, and which would be expanded to include some Six Nations teams in World Cup qualification years with “multiple” World Cup spots available.
Now the draft budget for the FER (Spanish Rugby Federation) for next year has emerged – and it includes €105,000 set aside for three games in the Four Nations (plus a further €45,000 for a game in Scotland).
The dates for these games will be:
- Scotland v Spain (Glasgow): 21st January
- Spain v 4 Nations team 1: 4th February
- 4 Nations team 2 v Spain: 25th February
- Spain v 4 Nations team 3: 11th March
However there is one problem that the Spanish budget documents and radio interviews do not cover - climate. Who these Four Nations teams would be is not confirmed, but if there are the teams “Yunque” suggested it would present some challenges as rugby in both Sweden and Germany will have closed down for the winter – indeed it is highly unlikely that Sweden (average daytime temperature below zero) could host any international rugby in February and March,. What is more, if there was promotion and relegation as Patricia Garcia suggests then there would similar problems for all of the likely teams - Switzerland, Czech Republic, Finland and Russia - all of whom are not notable for mild winters.
But, just when this seemed to be the way forward we learn that will now be a men’s U20 Eight Nations, involving the current Six plus Georgia and Romaia with the teams divided into two pools of four teams, presumably followed by a couple of rounds of play-off games. Would this be a pattern for an expanded 6N?