Early on Thursday morning, in a house in the Goierri region of northern Spain, a sofa will be pulled into a kitchen where the family TV will be connected to a computer so that two proud parents can watch their daughters play at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.
It is a tradition in the Erbina household that first started when eldest daughter Amaia was called up to the Spain squad for the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2015.
“Their whole weekend will be watching sevens,” she revealed.
Until last month Mr and Mrs Erbina would have been joined on the couch by Amaia’s younger sister Lide (main picture). However, this season the siblings have both been selected in the Spanish squad.
Lide, 17, made her series debut in Glendale, Colorado, in October and provided an instant impact, scoring a hat-trick to help her side to a 46-0 Challenge Trophy semi-final win over Mexico.
A dream come true
The sisters then stole the show in the final, Amaia wracking up three tries before Lide rounded off a 20-14 defeat of Fiji with her fifth of the tournament.
“I’ve played with Lide before but not in this kind of tournament or at this level,” Amaia said. “To share an experience like this with my sister is like a dream come true.”
Of her parents’ reaction some 5,000 miles away in northern Spain, she added: “I think they have had a party at home.
“They are so proud and so excited watching us. Seeing their daughters happy and enjoying what we do and things going well on the field, it makes them very happy.”
Amaia describes her parents as “rugby addicts”, who met because her father played the sport with her mother’s brother. It is no surprise therefore that, as children, trips to the park for Amaia, Lide and their brother Beñat (pictured above with their father) invariably involved a rugby ball.
Rio on the horizon
Amaia, now 21, was first taken by her father to the local rugby club in Ordizia where he coached when she was just five years old. Being the only girl at the club, she played with the boys until she become too old to be allowed too and “so I played for the women’s team.”
It was when she made the move into women’s rugby that her father urged her to focus on her passion with an Olympic Games in Rio on the horizon.
“When I was 16, my dad sad to me ‘Now you’ve started playing with women, you’ll have to prepare yourself because you might go to Rio’.
“At the time I didn’t think that was a possibility because I was only 16. But I thought I’d better prepare myself nonetheless and to be the best I could possibly be.”
Amaia’s hard work and dedication paid off because only two years after playing for Spain in the Youth Olympic Games in the Chinese city of Nanjing, she was selected to represent Spain at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, aged just 19. Ironically playing alongside Barbara Pla, a player she had asked for a photograph with nearly a decade earlier (see left).
“I thought the squad was being announced at 12pm but my team-mate Marina Bravo called me at 10 and said, ‘Have you seen the squad?’
“So, I looked it up and my name was there. My sister and mum were next to me at the time and we all started crying.
“I rang up my dad and said, ‘I’m in the squad!’ It was very, very emotional.”
Amaia says her call-up gave her the confidence that she could improve on the rugby pitch, and her inclusion in the squad also had a profound effect on her younger sister.
Lide had also been introduced to rugby at five years old, but she did not warm to playing the sport like her older sister or father had. Instead she played basketball and ran the 100 metre hurdles.
Inspired to play again
Their parents were convinced that both would make it to the Olympics one day, just not in the same sport. But watching Amaia perform at the Deodoro Stadium and on the Women’s Sevens Series registered with Lide.
“I was amazed by rugby sevens because, for me, it was like a combination of (15s) rugby and athletics,” Lide said.
“I started playing sevens when the Olympic Games was on, so in 2016 I changed from basketball to rugby sevens. I have never regretted that decision.”
Lide’s size and athleticism has given her an edge in the shorter format and just a few years after returning to the oval ball she has earned her place in coach Pedro de Matias’ squad.
“When I used to go and see her play with my parents I was always seen as Amaia’s little sister,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Oh, how cute’.
From little to strong sister
“Then, two or three years ago, I went to the qualifier in Dublin and all her team-mates were telling me that I should play because I am so big.
“So when I started playing and they called me to Madrid to go and train and they were like, ‘Is this your sister?’ I am no longer the little sister!”
Amaia added: “Physically she is much bigger than me, I am like the little girl in the family, and she is very, very strong.
“She is very difficult to tackle and very fast because of her athletics background. She is also very technical and has a great pass, despite only playing for three years. She also has a great defence, she smashes you!”
De Matias has apparently welcomed the competitive nature having two sisters on his squad has brought.
“When I say something to my sister in training and she screams at me, our coach, Pedro, says, ‘I like that, I like the sisters fighting’,” Lide explained.
But behind the “screaming” is a very real ambition: To qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
“We dream about it every day and mention it at every training camp,” admitted Amaia.
“For me it would be amazing. One) to qualify Spain for the Olympics and two) to go there with my sister.
“To experience something like this with your sister would make it 100 per cent more special than on your own. If we both go, I am sure our parents will both go and watch.”
Family photos credit: Amaia Erbina