The Spanish are eyeing a spot at RWC 2023 but are calling for more funding

Spain set sights on 2023 Rugby World Cup

Spain have put the controversy surrounding last year’s bid to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup behind them and are now focusing their attentions on the 2023 tournament in France.

The Spaniards play Belgium in Madrid on Sunday in the Rugby Europe Championship, with last year’s contentious fixture ingrained in many people’s memories.

Had Spain beaten Belgium they were set to qualify for Japan 2019 but they lost that game 18-10 and the ugly scenes that followed, with players confronting the referee, and a subsequent investigation into eligibility resulted in bans and points deductions.


It is a much-changed squad taking part in this year’s Rugby Europe Championship as the coaches look to a younger generation to push the country forward.

“It’s year one of the transition and an opportunity to have new guys in the squad,” says Spain coach Santiago Santos. “It’s almost a new team with a lot of changes. We’ve maybe kept five or six players from last year as we focus on 2023.

“Some older players retired and others that are young enough for the next cycle we’ve left at their clubs to keep their clubs happy.”

Spain set sights on 2023 Rugby World Cup

Ultimate goal: Spain coach Santiago Santos with Alberto Malo and the Webb Ellis Cup (Getty Images)

In terms of eligibility, Santos insists Spain are “double checking” all their players’ details after the punishments meted out for fielding ineligible players last year, but he rejects any assertion that the country are too reliant on those born overseas.

“Scotland, New Zealand… teams all have players from around the world,” says Santos. “We play within the rules with players who qualify for Spain.

“A lot of boys’ grandparents moved to France during the Civil War and feel Spanish; it’s in their DNA and they have Spanish blood. They may be born in France but they feel like Spaniards.

“We also have some English players whose parents came to live in Spain and they have been living in Spain since their childhood too. They develop their rugby in Spain and even though their blood is English they have lived their whole life in Spain.”

Another thing Santos speaks firmly on is finances. He says Spain, who are currently ranked 19th in the world, need more funding if they are to keep pace with Tier Two nations let alone achieve their goal of playing at RWC 2023.

“The problem with not qualifying for 2019 is not just that we don’t have the pleasure of getting to the World Cup, but once you’re there you get more money, which to me is quite unfair,” says Santos.

“The better teams get more money, more resources and more support from World Rugby. Georgia, Russia, Samoa, Tonga… they get more support because they’re in the World Cup. This isn’t fair.

“If we had more support I’m pretty sure we’d compete. We need to get more resources because not having that support makes it very difficult to play at this level. Our high-performance programme is under-financed.”

Santos also wants more Tests against higher-ranked opposition in the June and November windows to help Spain improve, although the Nations Championship plans appear to limit teams to Tests against those countries in their division.

Related: World Rugby clarifies Nations Championship plans

In spite of the off-field issues, Spain have already beaten Russia, who qualified for RWC 2019 after the ineligibility controversy, and Romania this year as well as tested Georgia in Tbilisi. And this weekend they will be looking to make amends for last year’s performance in Belgium.

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