Sunshine rugby in La Vila
The Spanish play rugby! Who knew? In this football-obsessed country, rugby union is so far down the sport pecking order you’d be forgiven for failing to notice it at all. But here in Villajoyosa, rugby is alive and kicking.
CR La Vila is actually one of the best teams in Spain and a home game at their stadium is a great way of spending a Sunday afternoon.
It costs just €5 to see a match at the Estadio del Pantano, a few minutes drive out of town on the road inland to Orxeta. Kids under 12 get in free. The ground is surprisingly modern; I’m guessing more than a few clubs back in the UK would love the facilities they have here.
The crowd is usually a friendly mix of local rugby fans and expat or tourist Brits getting their rugby fix. Buy yourself a beer or something off the barbecue and enjoy the match. For UK rugby followers, watching a game here in the sunshine certainly beats the biting wind and driving rain back home. And the quality of the rugby is pretty good too.
The first team, a mixture of home grown players with a sprinkling of overseas talent, plays in the top flight of Spanish rugby, the División de Honor. They won promotion literally at the last minute last season, thanks to a last-gasp converted try in the play-off finals.
Competing in the big league hasn't been easy so far: La Vila took three matches to register their first win of 2017. Check how La Vila are doing here. Find the fixture list here or follow the club on Facebook here.
Clearly rugby is never going to take the place of football - or even basketball - in the heart of your average Spanish sports fan. The Spanish movie star Javier Bardem, who was a rugby player in his younger days and even made it into the national team, was once quoted as saying; “being a rugby player in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan”. He had a point.
But the game has a firm footing here; the 2018 European Champions Cup final will be held in Spain (sadly, the other side of the country in Bilbao). The national men’s side (Los Leones) once made it to the Rugby World Cup, though that was back in 1999. Currently they play in the second tier of European rugby, one below the Six Nations, against teams such as Romania and Georgia. La Vila's Javi Carrión is in current side. The Spanish sevens team also played at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The Spanish women’s team played an international against Wales here in La Vila in January 2017. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for Las Leonas (the Lionesses); they lost 39-0, though they did make it to the womens' world cup in Dublin in the summer. CR La Vila runs teams for women and a range of age groups, plus an international sevens tournament at the end of the season.