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Spain set for emotional international rugby league debut

Por: | 16 de mayo de 2014

Head coach Darren Fisher will struggle to contain his emotions when he takes charge of Spain’s historic international rugby league debut against Belgium next week.

Los XIII del Toro, as the Spanish national side are affectionally nicknamed, will travel to Brussels on Saturday, May 24 for their first-ever competitive match before welcoming their opponents to Valencia on Sunday, June 8 for the second game of the Nassau Trophy Test series.

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The Englishman, who was appointed national head coach last November, has named a 20-man squad honoured with pulling on the famous red kit for the first time in an official Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) match and admits emotions will be running high when his side take to the pitch at the Centre Sportif de Neder-Over-Heembeek in the Belgian capital.

“It’s the first full Test for Spain and everybody is really excited,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to it, it’s a big thing for me, the players, the country and everybody involved with Spanish Rugby League Association (AERL).

“I’m trying to keep level-headed about it but I’ve got a beaming smile on my face; it’s going to be a great honour for me to take charge of Spain’s first official international match. Everyone is excited but we’re all a bit tense as well given the nature of the game. I’ve brought in a psychologist, Diego Ruano, to try and help but I have confidence in the squad of players I’ve selected and I’m sure we’ll be able to compete going on what I’ve seen in training.”

The 30-year-old, who also works on the coaching staff with English Super League club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, watched his side take on the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA), coached by former London Broncos player Ikram Butt, in Valencia on Wednesday as preparation for their first international venture. Spain went down 40-16 but Fisher could take plenty of positives from seeing his men in competitive action for the first time.

España 16 Bara 40 2

Belgium, who sit 21st in the European Rankings, are set to offer a sterner test for his side but the former Barrow Raiders and Batley Bulldogs player says his men will not be making the trip to the Lowlands just to make up the numbers.

“I’m the type of coach who is positive and will be going to Belgium to win,” he confirmed. “I have that confidence from watching the players in training and seeing the passion they have for the game. They’re all ready for it, the training has been intense and they just want to get out on the pitch now.”

Fisher has been keen to build his squad around players based in Spain and not follow the route other blossoming rugby league nations have taken in bringing in players from the sport’s leading countries such as Australia, New Zealand and England who qualify to represent Spain through their family roots. He’s stuck to his beliefs. Seven players in his first squad come from Valencia’s Ciencias Rugby League club, with five hailing from Irreductibles Mislata RL (Valencia), three from Valencia Warriors RL, two from Valencia Warriors RL Alba and two from CR Alcoià-Comtat.

The only player to hail from outside of Iberia is Danny Garcia, who plays for Rylands Sharks RLFC in Warrington, England. The utility-back was born in Spain and Fisher told the player he has to come and play domestic rugby league in Spain to ensure his place in the national squad, something Garcia has complied with.

Fisher, who has been receiving advice from Wakefield and France head coach Richard Agar, has also been buoyed by the commitment of José Luis Conejero, who turned down the chance to represent Spain in rugby union, the more popular code of the game, to commit to Los XIII del Toro. “It’s a positive sign,” he confirmed. “We’ve made great strides forward here in promoting rugby league in such a short time and hopefully that will continue with these first international fixtures.”

Spain’s first captain for their international rugby league debut has yet to be confirmed. Fisher admits the choice will be a tough one, although it’s a welcome selection headache. “The passion and leadership qualities that all the players have shown in training has made it a really difficult task for me,” he admits. “I have a few names in mind but it might be a case of waiting until the morning of the Belgium match, it’s something I need to make sure I get right.”

The Englishman, who is improving his Spanish week-by-week and will be assisted by Spanish-speaking Matt Dulley, has also been contacted by Malta, ranked 14th in Europe, about a possible match. It’s a positive step and something he hopes could come to fruition in early 2015. “They want to give us a game but they have a few Super League and NRL (Australia) players and I don’t want us going up against that quality just yet,” he said. “It’s good that these teams are getting in touch though so hopefully it’s something we can arrange for early next year.”

All eyes will be on the double-header against Belgium first, however, and the match will give Spain, who unveiled their kit for the historic fixture at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia on Tuesday, their first chance to climb up the RLEF rankings. Saturday, May 24 will be marked in the history books for the Spanish Federation and a victory in Brussels would provide the icing on the cake.

Squad to face Belgium: Adrià Alonso, Aitor Dávila, Alejandro Gordon, Daniel Garcia, Daniel Ruiz, Ezequiel Perez-Fuster, Morro Gonzalo, Hadriel Gonzalez, Ivan Ordaz, Jovi Gomez, Juan Pablo Range, Luis Thorp, Matt Dulley, Paul Hickey, Richi Perello, Sebas Zuleta, Ximo Fraile and Sergio Linares.

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expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

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Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

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