Home field advantage and a rich pedigree at this level makes Spain one of the favourites to keep their Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 dream alive by winning the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship, which runs from 6-15 October.
The 2016 European champions will go forward to play Scotland, the bottom ranked team across the 2015 and 2016 Six Nations, in a home and away play-off for a place at Ireland 2017 next August.
Whoever succeeds in that game will then join the nine teams who have already qualified in world champions England, WRWC 2014 runners-up Canada, France, hosts Ireland, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Wales and Italy.
The final two qualifiers will come from a tournament in Hong Kong in December involving two Asian sides and the winner of the Oceania Rugby Women's Championship, be that Fiji or Papua New Guinea.
Coach José Antonio Barros has included a large contingent of the sevens players who performed so well in finishing seventh at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games last month for the 15s campaign.
With Spanish men’s under-20 team also reaching the final of World Rugby U20 Trophy on their tournament debut in April, the country's rugby is on something of a high right now and Barros hopes his side can add to the feel-good factor.
“We want to win this European Championship. It will help us promote the good image and development of Spanish rugby so that more and more girls start playing the game,” he said.
“Our weakness is that we’ve had very little 15s competition in recent years, only a game against Scotland and one with Hong Kong.”
PROUD WORLD CUP PEDIGREE
With a squad made up of players from nine local teams and two from France and one from Australia, Spain have been working towards Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 qualification for the past two years.
Las Leonas have played in five of the seven Women’s Rugby World Cups to date, finishing ninth last time out in France in 2014, and they don’t intend to miss out on the next edition. Their best position was sixth at the inaugural tournament in Wales, in 1991.
Co-captain Isabel Rico Vázquez acknowledges that the ultimate goal is to reach WRWC 2017.
“We have a well-prepared team, with players that were in France 2014 and now reinforced by the girls that went to Rio and played great rugby,” she said.
BELGIUM LAY IN WAIT
“We know that first we have to win this tournament if we are to play against Scotland. If we do, we will be able to look back on these three games in the European Championship as preparation.”
The tournament will be played at the Estadio de la Universidad Complutense with the six teams split into two pools.
Las Leonas are in Pool A with Belgium and the Czech Republic, while Pool B consists of Russia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The two pool winners will meet in the final.
Defending champions Belgium are first up for the Spanish in a game that should be a lot closer than their only previous meeting: a 66-0 win for Spain in 2010.