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Rugby union in Spainmarker is an unpopular sport. The national side has played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup and is considered one of the stronger European nations outside the Six Nations Championship. Spanish club rugby is divided into divisions.

There are 14,195 registered players in Spain, 693 of whom are female. There are also some 214 clubs, and Spain is ranked 22nd in the world.

Governing body

The Spanish Rugby Federation (Spanish: Federación Española de Rugby), based in Madrid, is the governing body for the sport of rugby union in Spain.

It was founded in 1923, and joined the International Rugby Board in 1988. It is also a member of FIRA.


Early history

Like many continental European nations, Spanish rugby has a surprisingly long history. It was first introduced there before World War I However, subsequent events such as the Spanish Civil War, which was particularly violent in the sport's Basque and Catalan heartlands helped hinder its development. Traditionally there are three main rugby playing areas in Spain - Madridmarker the capital, the Spanish Basque Countrymarker, and Cataloniamarker particularly around Barcelonamarker.

The earliest recorded game in Spain was in 1901, when an Englishman called Stuart Nicholson resident in Bilbaomarker,

"turned to Racing Club, when he wanted eye catching opposition for a three team tournament, also involving British and French exiles in Barcelona."

However, the game lay largely dormant until after the end of WWI, and was reintroduced from the south of Francemarker: Provence and the French Basque Country.


In 1921, Baudilio Aleu Torres, a Catalan, who had been studying veterinary medicine in Toulousemarker, returned to his native Barcelonamarker, and founded the Santbiona Club there. Santbiona's pitch was cleared by the players themselves, and according to Huw Richards, "a tree was tolerated and used as a coat hanger, until it was uprooted after a few games." The rules had not been translated into either Spanish or Catalan in this period, and there were also continual tensions between the Catalan, and more "Spanish-minded" (usually Madrid resident) elements, as well as, to a much lesser extent, Basque elements.

The first game in Madrid was in the 1920s as well, when Biarritz and Tarbes played an exhibition match in front of 12,000 spectators.
The score upset some of the fans, who protested by throwing cushions onto the pitch.

A Spanish XV played France, including Yves du Manoir, in 1927, but it was organised by a rebel governing body, and so is not usually recognised as a proper international.

Spain's first recognised international was in 1929 against Italy, in Barcelona, in Montjuïc Stadiummarker, as part of the 1929 Expo. Although the Spanish Royal Family attended, all of the players were Catalan. Spain won 9-0.

Post-war period

Spain's international record includes several upsets. For example, in 1977, they beat Italy,and in 1992, they beat Romania.

With the thawing of relations between the UK and Spain over the Gibraltar question, rugby union in Gibraltar has become more closely linked with its Spanish neighbours. Between 1968 and 1985, the land border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. When it reopened, a number of games were played against sides from Sevillemarker and Madridmarker. Campo Gibraltar RFC now play in the Andalucianmarker second division.

On the 2nd May, 1989, the Spanish women's team played their first match, against France, losing 0-28. In 2000, they joined the Women's Six Nations, but in 2007, the tournament was altered so that Italy replaced Spain, in order to mirror the men's tournament.

Present day

In playing standard, Spain occupies the third tier in Europe, behind Romania and Georgia. In more recent times, a fourth region has opened up along the beach resorts on the Mediterraneanmarker coast, the Canary Islandsmarker and Balearicsmarker, thanks to the influx of expatriates. In these areas, however these rarely take in the locals. Beach rugby has become popular in many areas, as has rugby sevens. There are various rugby sevens tournaments in the country, including the Benidorm Sevens.

In recent years, Estadio Anoetamarker in the Basque Country has also been used for occasional Heineken Cup rugby union fixtures by nearby French-Basque club Biarritz Olympique. In the upcoming 2009–10 Top 14 season, both Biarritz and fellow Basque club Bayonne will take one home match to the Anoeta. On 21 August, Bayonne will host Stade Français at the Anoeta, followed on 12 September by the Northern Basque derby between Biarritz and Bayonne, with BO as the home team. The stadium, which holds 32,076, was inaugurated in 1993.

Spain continues to be popular with touring sides, from the British Isles and France, due to its climate and good transport links.


Rugby is fairly popular in the Southern Cone of South America, with the Spanish speaking nations of Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker having qualified forthe Rugby World Cup. However there is a substantial difference between their Spanish terms, and those of their European Spanish speaking counterparts.

In South America, a combination of Spanish and English position names is used, because rugby was introduced there directly from England, after these countries became independent of Spain. French and Italian are included for comparison. French rugby vocabulary has been a strong influence on that of Spain, but not much on Latin American Spanish. Note that Ala is a flanker in South America, and a wing in Spain.

English French Italian Spanish (Spain) Spanish (South America)
Prop Pilier Pilone Pilar, Pilier Pilar
Hooker Talonneur Tallonatore Talonador Hooker
Flanker Troisième Ligne Aile Terza (linea) ala

Tercera Línea, Flanker Ala, Tercera Línea
Lock Deuxième Ligne Seconda Linea Segunda Línea Segunda Línea
Number eight Troisième Ligne Centre Terza linea media

Terza (linea) centro

Numero 8
Tercera Línea Centro u "Ocho" Octavo, Ocho, Tercera Línea
Scrum half Demi de mêlée Mediano di mischia Medio melé Medio Scrum
Fly-half Demi d'ouverture, Ouvreur Apertura

Mediano d'apertura
Apertura, Medio de Apertura Apertura, Medio Apertura
Centre Centre Centro (Primo e Secondo)

Tre quarti centro
Centro (Primero y Segundo) In-side (Primero y Segundo), Centro
Wing (Left and Right) Ailier Ala

Tre quarti ala
Ala (Izquierda y Derecha) Wing (Izquierdo y Derecho)
Full-back Arrière Estremo Zaguero Fullback

Notable players

Javier Bardem, played for the underage national team. Bardem was originally a flanker, but became a prop, and has been quotes as saying, ""being a rugby player in Spain is akin to be a bull-fighter in Japan." He is better known for his acting career which includes the likes of No Country for Old Men, for which he won an Oscar, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, as well as a number of highly successful Spanish language films such as The Sea Inside .

Other notable Spanish players include -


Football is the most popular sport in Spain, and as such, rugby union gets minimal media coverage. After the national team qualified for their first ever World Cup, the 1999 World Cup, participation rates for rugby union had jumped up by 20% in the Madridmarker area by 2001. In addition, funding from the Spanish sports council has also been on the rise. There are currently over 17,000 registered rugby union players in Spain, with more than 200 clubs across the country.

There are pockets where the sport is particularly popular, such as Valladolidmarker, a city located in north-central Spain, Sant Boi de Llobregatmarker in Cataloniamarker and the Basque countrymarker. The rugby club Biarritz Olympique, who come from the French Basque Country have played Heineken Cup matches at the 32,000-seat Estadio Anoetamarker in San Sebastiánmarker, Spain and attracted sell-out crowds.


The Spanishmarker rugby union league is divided into divisions. The top teams play in the División de Honor. In each division, a team plays all other teams twice, once at home and once away. The Spanish league teams compete in a domestic cup competition each year, called the Copa del Rey. The winners of the División de Honor de Rugby (Honor Division) play the winners of the Copa del Rey in the Supercopa de España de Rugby (Super Cup). The champion of the División de Honor earns a spot in the European Challenge Cup.

In 2008 the SRF and clubs agreed to the formation of a Liga Superibérica (Super Iberianmarker League), which will operate on a franchise system (similar to rugby league's Super League or Japanmarker's bj league of basketball). The new league shall operate with 5 Spanish clubs, 4 Portuguesemarker, and one from Gibraltarmarker. It will operate on a different season from the División de Honor.

Current hierarchical divisional breakdowns

Other competitions

National team

The Spain national rugby union team represents the whole country and have been playing international rugby since the late 1920s. Their first match was in 1929 against Italy, which Spain won 9-0. Spain has thus far made one World Cup appearance, being in 1999. They were grouped in Pool A, alongside South Africa, Scotland and Uruguay. South Africa and Scotland defeated Spain by 40 points, and they also lost to Uruguay, though it was a closer contest.

External links


  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1 86200 013 3)
  • Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburghmarker, 2007, ISBN 9781845962555)

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