Patricia Garcia and her Spanish team-mates do not need to look very far for inspiration – if they need it – in their battle to ensure they remain as a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2017-18.
For only two weeks ago their male counterparts won the 12-team qualifying tournament in Hong Kong to secure a return to the world series next season, having been relegated after finishing bottom of the 15 core teams in the 2013-14 series.
The teams have drawn inspiration from each other before, only last year Spain’s men stunned Samoa to win the Olympic repechage and qualify for Rio 2016 one weekend and seven days later their women beat Russia to join them on the plane to Brazil.
“There have been a lot of good things happening in Spanish rugby at the moment,” insisted Garcia. “Each team is drawing inspiration from the other I think. They had qualified for the Olympics when almost nobody thought that they would and we did the same.
“We got an Olympic diploma (top eight finish) and now they qualify for the world series without a lot of preparation which is pretty inspirational for us and good for the development of the legacy of rugby in Spain.”
Las Leonas currently lie 10th of the 11 core teams this season with nine points from three rounds, seven behind Ireland and crucially two more than Brazil. The lowest ranked core team will be relegated and replaced by Japan, who won the women’s qualifier in Hong Kong.
Garcia has 19 series tournaments to her name going into this weekend’s HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan, more than seven of her team-mates boast between them, and her experience will be vital if Spain’s youthful squad are to challenge for a first Cup quarter-final appearance of the season.
A long road ahead
“We are growing a new team. After the Olympics some of the girls retired and a lot of young players came into the team. It has been a difficult beginning in terms of results so we are trying to work hard at our game and our tactics, so that the new girls can come into the international level and perform.
“A problem in Spain is we have a big gap between the top players that play for the national teams and the young girls. They have been playing in the Spanish division and had short camps with U18 or young girls, but there is a really big step up to international level.
“We have to know what our failings are and they have to train and come to the top very fast.
“Hopefully we can reach the quarter-finals this weekend, that would be great. Results are important because we want to stay on the world sevens series – that is very crucial for us and Spanish rugby for the men’s and women’s to be on the sevens series.
“It is really difficult, though, when you are in the beginning of a process. Results are a consequence and hopefully they will come later. Hopefully we can do well on day one and get to the quarter-finals, but it is going to be really tough knowing the teams that we’ll play.”
‘Tough’ is an understatement with Spain set to open the tournament against USA, who have twice reached the semi-finals this season, before tackling Sydney winners Canada and England, the team they beat in the Challenge Trophy last time out in Las Vegas.
“There are no easy teams for us on the world sevens series,” admitted Garcia. “Even though we beat England in the last game, it is always going to be a difficult game when you come up against them. It was a pretty close game last time around and they are able to call on a lot more of their experienced players because the Six Nations is finished.
Qualification a huge relief
“It is going to be hard for sure but we’ll take it game by game and fight really hard each game. USA are first and we’ll try and play well and win that game so that for the rest of the day we can be in the fight for the quarter-finals.”
One positive for Garcia, who with many of her team-mates will be switching her attention to 15s once the series finishes to play in Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland, is that Spain are already qualified for RWC Sevens 2018 in San Francisco by virtue of their fourth-place finish in 2013.
“We are definitely happy to have qualified for San Francisco already because at this point it would have been really hard for us to have to qualify.
“Sevens throws up a lot of surprises. At the last World Cup, we finished fourth after losing in extra-time to USA. We could have actually got the bronze medal had I not missed the kick! We have to think about the present and do a lot of work so that we can be a better team in San Francisco.
“There is a good ambience in the squad and we have a lot of fun with the new girls, but we know we have a lot to learn as a team at the moment, so we are working and training hard to get our confidence to be able to put in a good performance on the field.”
Whether that quarter-final wish comes true at the Mikuni World Stadium in Kitakyushu, the least Spain must do is finish above Brazil to remain above them. If they can suck other teams into the mix like Ireland or even England, then all the better for their survival hopes.
“We are the two teams fighting to stay on the series, but there are still three more tournaments and there have been a lot of surprises in sevens in the past,” insisted a hopeful Garcia.