Spain assistant coach Juan Gonzalez Marruecos says Las Leonas are beginning a “fresh new cycle” as they begin their quest for a fifth successive Rugby Europe Women’s Championship title.
Las Leonas kick-off the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship 2022 on Saturday when the defending champions take on the Netherlands, who finished bottom of the three-team tournament last year, in Amsterdam.
The match will be Spain’s first test since the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma last September, in which they missed out on a ticket to New Zealand.
Failure to qualify for RWC 2021 has led coach José Antonio Barrio to refresh his squad and seven of the 23 players selected to face the Netherlands are set to make their test debut in Amsterdam.
Hooker Nuria Jou, centre Bruna Elías and winger Clara Piquero will each get their first taste of test rugby from the start, while Aleu Cid, Julia Castro, Zahía Pérez and Cris López have been named among the replacements.
“We have had some preparatory weeks, and a friendly match against Colombia where we could try a lot of young Spanish talents,” Marruecos said.
“All the girls have proved that they are so eager to play this Women's Rugby Europe Championship, prove themselves and fight for their own place in the team.
“Since we were not able to secure a spot at the World Cup, we're starting now a fresh new cycle."
“We are in the process of rebuilding”
Spain have never lost a women’s test against the Netherlands, winning each of the teams’ 10 encounters, including a 87-0 victory in Guadalajara 12 months ago.
Nine players crossed the whitewash for the hosts in that match at Estadio Pedro Escartín but only one of those, Maria Losada, has been selected to start in Amsterdam.
And ahead of the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship opener, Las Leones will take nothing for granted against a team seven places below them in 17th in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Marruecos added: “The Netherlands is a team who is preparing themselves for the next World Cup cycle, and they've been working for some years with young talents, who are playing in England or even in our home league, Liga Iberdrola, in Spain.
“We know that they've played some friendly matches, one of them against Italy A, and that they're growing year on year.
“In addition to that they will be competing at home, so we're sure that they are going to fight for the win.”
Spain cannot improve their position in the Women’s Rankings but would drop from 10th to 11th with defeat. The Netherlands, meanwhile, would climb above Samoa with victory and could find themselves as high as 14th on Monday if that win comes by more than 15 points.
Netherlands coach Sylke Haverkorn, like her opposite number, is hoping to use the match in Amsterdam as a chance to give fresh faces some experience.
“We are in the process of rebuilding our young team. After having some good games in November against Belgium and Italy we are taking the next steps and Spain will be very strong opposition,” Haverkorn said.
“This game will be important for us to see where we are in our process and also act as preparation for the game against Russia in March. Last year we had a very difficult time in Madrid and for us it is now key to show we have improved from last February.
“Games on this level are important for us to take the next steps.”
Following this weekend’s match, Spain will take on Russia in Madrid on 26 February, before the latter host the Netherlands in Saransk on 12 March.