Tomorrow (27th February) is a red letter day for supporters of women’s test rugby with the reformation of the European Championship.
Spain v Netherlands in Europe's World Cup qualifier in 2016
The world’s oldest women’s rugby tournament is revived this week after a six year absence. Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Spain will compete for the first European Championship to be held since 2012.
First held in 1988 the European Championship was competed for almost annually from 1995 to 2012, with 16 teams taking part at its height. The rise of sevens was mostly to blame for its demise, coupled with the departure of Six Nations teams (mainly England and France) who used to enter their “A” teams in the tournament – or even their full teams once every four years.
Since 2012 a “European Championship” has only appeared in the fixture list in 2013 and 2016 when it acted as the continent’s World Cup qualification tournament. The only annual XVs rugby tournaments organised by Rugby Europe since 2014 has been second level European Trophy.
The revival of the tournament is mainly due to the efforts of Spain who wanted to organise a Four Nations, to run alongside the Six Nations. However, the cost of a tournament spread over three weekends with teams having to travel around Europe proved to be too expensive for most of their rivals.
As a result a single event for four teams, with semi-finals and a final, has been organised. The semi-finals will take place tomorrow in the Pachy Stadium in Waterloo, with the third-place game in Friday at the same venue, and the final at Petit Heysel in Brussels as part of a double-header with the men’s European Championship between Belgium and Germany.
Spain start as clear favourites, though with their Sevens players absent they will not be quite the force they were in the World Cup. Even so it would be a huge upset if they failed to lift the trophy on Saturday.
Following the cancellation of their game against Scotland the team came together for a training camp in Madrid on 19th February. José Antonio Barrio remains at the helm and his 24 player squad, captained by Isabel Rico, will include 11 potential debutants - Margarita Rodigurz, Alba Vinuesa, Eva Aguirre, Jimena Parra, Maria Garcia, Marta Carmona, Lide Erbina, Anna Puig, Judith Velez, Maria Calvo and Maitane Salinas.
Spain will include two players from the French Top 8 - Isabel Macias Valcayo (Bobigny) and Maitane Salinas Lizoain (Bayonne) - and one from the English Tyrrells Premiership - Jeanina Vinueza Loyola (Saracen)
They will face Germany in the first semifinal at 6:00pm CET.
Spain: Margarita Rodriguez Gómez; Amaia Erbina Araña; Anne Fernández De Corres Del Rio; Alba Vinuesa García; Eva Aguirre Diez; María Ahis Adell; Iera Echebarria Fernández; Jimena Parra Llorente; Isabel Rico Vázquez; Lourdes Alameda García-Moreno; Carlota Meliz Pérez; Lucía Díaz Martín; María García Gala;Crat A Coruña; Mónica Castelo Mejuto; Laura Delgado Dueñas; MartaCarmona Pérez;Ordizia Re; Lide Erbina Araña; Anna Puig Delgado;Inef Barcelona; María Losada Gifra; Judith Velez Gallardo; María Calvo Balaguer;; Isabel Macias Valcayo; Maitane Salinas Lizoain; Jeanina Alejandra Vinueza Loyola
For their semi-final opponents – Germany - this will be their biggest challenge since the teams was reformed only last year. National coach Alfred Jansen and Marcus Trick have now nominated a strong squad fresh from their 65-0 win over the RAF.
"Although there are five or six players we would have have had to cancel due to injury, we have here the best players in Germany together, a good and highly motivated team," emphasizes national coach Marcus Trick. "The mood is good, and our the preparation has gone well."
"Our goal is to win at least one of the two games," says Coach Trick. "Even if we are the clear outsider against Spain, we will not give anything away, but we will try everything to land a surprise."
Germany include two players from the English Tyrrell’s Premiership - Leonie Hollstein (Saracens) and Nora Baltruweit (Wasps).
Germany: Mareike Bier, Dana Kleine-Grefe, Melissa Paul, Frederike Wenzlaff, Johanna Hacker, Friederike Kempter, Lisa Maral, Annika Nowotny, Susanne Pfisterer, Yona Rossol, Muriel Weigel, Lisa Bohrmann, Amelie Harris, Franziska Holpp, Steffi Gruber, Noemi Mager, Jessica Neues, Lea Predikant, Elisa Trick, Julia Wich-Schwarz, Monica Yee, Meike Hedderich, Martha Ivanovas, Leonie Hollstein, Nora Baltruweit.
The Netherlands are favourites to meet Spain in the final, not least following their performance against the British Army in January where the speed of their backs, many with World Sevens Series experience, impressed everyone who saw the game. They too include two players from the English Premiership - Tessa Wijmans and Samantha Martinez Gion, who both play with Saracens, as well as Nikki Weijers who plays for Dendermonde in Belgium. Their opponents will be the hosts Belgium, who they beat 39-17 in an uncapped international in November 11 last year.
Netherlands: Anouschka Beukers (RC Bassets); Bodil van Wijnbergen( All Blues); Irith Lely (RC Delft); Joyce van Altena (VC) (All Blues); Linde van der Velden (Castricumse RC); Linneke Gevers (RC Octopus); Marleen Zethof (AAC); Pien Selbeck (AAC); Robin Wubben (RC The Bassets); Rosanne Verbeek (RC Delft); Samantha Martinez Gion (Saracens); Sophie Touber (Castricumse RC); Tessa Wijmans (Saracens); Wopke van Leeuwen (RC The Dukes ); Amy Stolk (All Blues); Bastiënne Oonk (AAC); Elke van Meer (RUS); Erin Arends (All Blues); Jordan Heil (AAC); Lorraine Laros (Captain) (RC Delft); Marit Bakker (RC Delft); Nikki Weijers (RC Dendermonde); Pleuni Kievit (RC The Dukes); Tamara Stock (RC Delft)
Belgium’s coaches Renaud Labardant and Xavier Bossert four changes from the teams that played the Dutch in November - Laurie Prignon, Alison Lenaerts, Elodie Musch and Jozefien Beckers. Unlike their opponents, Belgium do not have any players based in England, their only overseas-based player being Elodie Musch who plays for Perpignan in the French Armelle Auclair
Belgium: Ilham Bahri (Boitsfort); Jozefien Beckers (Coq Mosan); Laura Bosman (Dendermonde); Cathy De Geyter (Boitsfort); Alexia Faes (Kituro Ovalie); Laura Fortemps (Coq Mosan); Naomi Gideon (Kituro Ovalie); Charlotte Kuhn (Dendermonde); Alison Lenaerts (Boitsfort); Stéphanie Lepage (Boitsfort); Jeanne Marquegnies (Frameries); Laure Martinet (Coq Mosan); Nele Michem (Dendermonde); Elodie Musch (Perpignan); Nelly Nzeza (Boitsfort); Cristina Pecoraro (Kituro Ovalie); Charline Pierson (Kituro Ovalie); Laurie Prignon (Kituro Ovalie); Aude Risselin (Kituro Ovalie); Marie Rutsaert (Leuven); Jolien Scheers (Leuven); Britte Seghers (Boitsfort); Karen Seyen (Leuven); Alicia Torre (Coq Mosan); Nele Van Den Haesevelde (Oudenaarde); Sarah Verzin (Boitsfort)