Las Leonas have left no stone unturned in their preparation for the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe qualifier, spending crucial preparation time in the Spanish Pyrenees and a brief visit to Toulouse so that they can hopefully finish four years of hard work and sacrifice by securing a place at Rugby World Cup 2021, to be played next year in New Zealand.
José Antonio Barrio’s side will be in prime condition after working on their fitness and specific game scenarios ahead of three matchdays taking place from 13-25 September at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, in Parma, Italy.
“We believe that the European Qualifying Tournament will be tight and short, where you put on the line the work of four years under many variables,” the coach tells World Rugby, focusing on his team’s first game against Ireland on 13 September.
Soon after, games against Scotland (19 September) and the home side Italy (25 September) will decide one qualifier and a team to play in the Final Qualification Tournament, date and venue to be announced.
Barrio has been working with a new squad since Rugby World Cup 2017 and “all the players are now standouts, both in the national team and the Liga”.
When asked specifically about Alba Vinuesa, who scored four tries in Spain’s last game against the Netherlands, he says: “She is a young player, who works hard. She has a lot of talent and has grown and matured both on the physical aspect but also as captain of her club side. She came to the team young and she is on the verge of big things.”
A lot is expected of her and her team in Italy.
“Those four tries were team tries,” she says from Toulouse.
“That was in the European Championship; we’d been in camp for a month preparing to play against Ireland (a game eventually cancelled due to the pandemic) and I felt comfortable in the team, in my position.”
Hailing from a rugby family, with a brother that is also in Los Leones, Vinuesa only started to play rugby five years ago, leaving behind basketball. Her father is Rugby Director at her club Complutense Cisneros, in Madrid. Vinuesa joined Barrio’s team as he sought to renew it after Ireland 2017.
“I am a member of the new generation, the leaders are the older players,” she says, ready to travel to Italy for what she describes will be “the greatest”.
“We’ll play against Six Nations teams that we don’t often play against and because of that, we have to prove we are ready to compete against them. We’ve been preparing for five years; we have chances.
"We can win every game!” she adds.
For that, Spain will have to play their accustomed “open, varied and continued style,” says Vinuesa. “I am not the fastest, but I am strong and have good hands. I think that is what I can bring to the team.”
In the post-Ireland 2017 cycle, Spain have only played Scotland out of their three rivals in the Europe qualifier. “Of the other two we know little, only what we’ve analysed from videos. At the moment, we are only focusing on Ireland.”
As she says, the focus is on what lies right ahead and not in New Zealand and what promises to be an unforgettable Rugby World Cup.
“Today, it is game by game. This European qualifying will be a big challenge playing against Six Nations teams. We must prove that are worthy of playing at that level.
“If we qualify, then will be the time to think on New Zealand.”