Spain beat Portugal 33-28 in Madrid on Sunday morning to secure their place in Ireland's pool at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, only the second time they have qualified for the global showpiece tournament.
The Spanish, who took part in the 1999 World Cup, will be in Pool B alongside reigning champions South Africa, Andy Farrell’s Ireland, Scotland, and a team from the Asia/Pacific region, which will be one of Samoa, Tonga or the Cook Islands.
It is a remarkable turnaround for Spain, who lost their first three matches of the campaign but then went on to win the next six games.
Roared on by more than 6,000 fans at the Complutense University on a sunny morning in the Spanish capital, hooker Marco Pinto led the way for Spain with two first-half tries.
Portugal guaranteed a grandstand finish to the game but the hosts held firm and when their long overdue return to the World Cup was confirmed, the supporters invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players.
Pinto said in the aftermath: “It’s impossible to describe the emotions going through my veins right now. My thoughts are with those who could not be here on this magical day, this one I dedicate to our brother Kawa Leauma who died wanting to play with us,” he told Reuters, remembering lock Leauma, who died aged 32 from head injuries sustained in a fall in the Netherlands in December.
Spain climbed to second in the qualification group with six wins and three losses, behind Georgia who have secured their place in France with eight wins and one draw after defeating Romania 26-23 in Bucharest on Saturday. Spain will play Georgia in their final match of the campaign in Tbilisi next weekend.
Portugal are third in standings but Romania are just two points behind and have a game in hand against the Netherlands next weekend. The team that finishes third will go into a World Cup repechage tournament in November for the final qualifying place for the 2023 RWC in France.
All Blacks backlash over International Women’s Day post
The All Blacks apologised for a social media post on International Women’s Day that praised women in supporting roles in rugby with no mention of their hugely successful Women’s 15s and Sevens teams.
The Black Ferns are the reigning 15-a-side world champions – the 2021 World Cup pushed back to this year will be played there later this year – having won five of the six global tournaments to date, while the Black Ferns Sevens have won the last two World Cups and are the reigning Olympic and Commonwealth champions.
The original post read: “Forever grateful to all the women in our lives that allow us to play the game we love. Partners, mothers, daughters, doctors, physios, referees, administrators and fans. Appreciate you every day.”
It drew an immediate backlash and there was widespread criticism of the fact that they overlooked their brilliant women’s teams while there was also disquiet that All Blacks wing Sevu Reece, who in 2018 admitted assaulting his female partner after which a contract agreement to join Connacht was withdrawn, featured in a photograph.
The original tribute was deleted from social media, and the All Blacks posted an apology which read: “We’ve stopped, listened and we agree we didn’t get it right with our celebration of International Women’s Day and we apologise.
“The Black Ferns and the Black Ferns Sevens continue to inspire people around the world, not just with their achievements on the field but the way they represent the sport off the pitch.”
The number of English defenders beaten during the 80 minutes at Twickenham while other attacking metrics from the Irish team include 11 offloads and six clean breaks.
"We pride ourselves a lot on how we defend and the effort and physicality allied to the system. There was a lot to like about how we defended in the first half, we were getting turnovers, two-man tackles; we were looking in control. We'll take confidence from the win and that will give us a good boost for [what] will be an even bigger challenge." – Scotland coach Gregor Townsend
Ireland chase Under-20 Grand Slam at Fortress Musgrave
Ireland will look to win a third Under-20 Six Nations Championship Grand Slam against Scotland in Musgrave Park next Sunday (5.0) to go with those in 2007 and 2019.
Richie Murphy’s side have beaten Wales, France, Italy and England and face a Scottish squad that have lost all four matches in their campaign. Irish U-20 teams have never lost at Musgrave Park, a record the current incumbents will be keen to preserve.
Former Ireland outhalf and current Connacht academy manager Eric Elwood, assisted by Dan McFarland, coached that first Irish Grand Slam side in 2007 and from that squad Felix Jones, Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley, Jamie Hagan, Seán O'Brien and Tommy O'Donnell all went on to win senior caps for Ireland.
In 2019 Noel McNamara was at the helm when Ireland won the Slam in Colwyn Bay; Ryan Baird, Craig Casey and Harry Byrne have won senior caps and there should be one or two others from that squad who will emulate that achievement over the coming seasons.