Spain enjoyed comfortable wins over Germany and the Netherlands to justify their pre-tournament favourites tag and lift the Rugby Europe Women’s 15s Championship trophy.
The Dutch fought gamely in the first half of the final and only trailed by 12 at the break but Spain turned up the heat in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points to win 40-7.
A hard-fought 24-5 win over host nation Belgium saw Germany finish third and improve their World Rugby Women’s Ranking to 19th with Russia the ones to suffer as a result.
Spain, ranked 10th, marginally improved their rating by 0.37 of a point to close the gap on Italy above them to less than a point.
Ran as a single event for four teams over five days, the 2018 Championship was played at two different venues in Belgium. The snow-bound Stade du Pachy in Waterloo hosted the semi-finals and third-place play-off while the final was played on the artificial turf at the Nelson Mandela Centre in Brussels as part of a double-header with the men’s Rugby Europe Championship match between Belgium and Germany.
Las Leonas had made their intentions clear from the start of the tournament with a try inside the first 30 seconds of the opening match against Germany, scored by Iera Echeberria. The full-back crossed again within minutes as Spain raced into a 12-0 lead. Three more tries saw them turn around 27-0 to the good. Replacements Lea Predikant and Mareike Bier crossed the whitewash either side of a try from number eight Lisa Maral to take the score out to 44-0 by the final whistle.
In the game that followed, the Netherlands enjoyed an emphatic 84-12 win over Belgium. The Dutch scored 13 tries in total with hat-tricks for both wingers, Marit Bakker and Bastienne Oonk, and scrum-half Erin Arends.
Belgium were much more competitive in the third place play-off against Germany and trailed by only one score at half-time after winger Steffi Gruber crossed and Leonie Hollstein added the conversion. By the 64-minute mark, however, Germany were out of sight, Gruber’s second and further tries from forwards Jessica Neues and Nora Baltruweit taking them into a 24-0 lead. Belgium at least grabbed a consolation try before time was up through replacement Cristina Pecorado.
On a cold afternoon in Brussels, the final everyone predicted was closely-fought up until half-time. Tries from hooker Margarita Rodriguez and scrum-half Anna Fernandez de Corres, both converted by Maria Ahis, saw Spain open up a 14-0 lead inside the first quarter. But the Netherlands hit back to score a try through flanker Wopke van Leeuwen, which Lorraine Laros improved to halve Spain’s lead. The Netherlands tried in vain to force their way over again, Spain holding firm in defence before adding a third try on the stroke of half-time through the outstanding Echeberria.
Tight-head prop Laura Delgado dotted down within five minutes of the restart, and with Ahis converting Spain found themselves 29-7 up. Aris kicked two penalties to further punish a Netherlands side that continued to squander any chances that came their way before adding another, shortly after replacement Carlota Meliz crossed for Spain’s fifth try.
Despite the defeat, the Netherlands still managed to marginally improve their ranking over the course of the tournament to 64.22 points – a gain of five-hundredths, thanks to their earlier win over Belgium. They remain in 14th place while Belgium drop below Trinidad and Tobago to 22nd.