MAR ÁLVAREZ, SPANISH RUGBY FEDERATION PHYSICAL TRAINER
"Soon we will be able to rise within the top 10 of the women's rugby elite of which we are already part"
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Mar Álvarez joined the staff of the Spanish Rugby Federation five years ago and will be one of the key players in the next European championship as the only woman present in the technical staff of a male team.
The 2018 Rugby Europe Championship (REC) External link, opens in new window. begins on 10 February. The XV Spanish men's rugby team will qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan if it finishes first in the group or if it finishes second through a play-off match with the Samoan team during the qualification matches. This would be a historic feat, as it was achieved only once in 1999, in Wales. "It's a historic challenge for our team and for our sport. It's going to be very difficult to attain this, but we are very driven, well-prepared, and capable of achieving it." Mar Álvarez, the team's strength and conditioning coach, is one of the key players without meaning to be. She is the only woman who takes part in the REC: No other team has a female presence within the technical staff, other than some doctors and physiotherapists. The same applies to all other international teams. "I have never met a female strength and conditioning coach within World Rugby training or in any team competition." Mar is a pioneer, and although she does not think about it, she does recognise that "It makes me try even harder, because we have to open the door, and I like that."
Mar Álvarez joined the staff of the Spanish Rugby Federation External link, opens in new window. five years ago. "The head coach, Santiago Santos, opted for my experience as a strength and conditioning coach because — in addition to my career of more than 14 years as a player and rugby coach — I had solid technical and tactical knowledge."
You know in detail the world of both men's and women's rugby. How do they compare with the world elite?
If we follow the line of activity that we are applying in the lower categories of the team for both the male and female categories, we would be able to ensure our presence among the world elite. We have a specific development plan for players under 13 years of age and another one for young people under 18 years of age that we have transferred to the clubs. This allows us to all work along the same line, and we have already begun to see the results. Spanish women's rugby is doing very well. If we continue in the same vein, soon we will be able to rise within the top top 10 of the world elite, of which we are already part.
READ THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW WITH MAR ÁLVAREZ, WOMEN'S RUGBY PHYSICAL TRAINER
Do you use anyone as a reference model, be it the New Zealanders, the Anglo-Saxons, the French or others?
I love New Zealand; it's like the NBA of rugby. Their ball simply flies there. The players are the most skilled and spectacular and, above all, they are an example of simplicity and humility. However, each country has to exploit its own abilities. We should not try to copy the New Zealand model, as that would be a mistake. Spanish rugby has to exploit its abilities; we have to find our own model. We are very creative in terms of team sports. The path for Spanish rugby should imitate the one that has led to success in Spanish football, basketball, and handball, for example.
Mar Álvarez with the players of the men's rugby team. © Martín Seras Lima.
What is missing from Spanish rugby and/or its players in order to reach that level?
It is very important to give Spanish rugby more visibility, so that there is greater social impact. We need more people going to the matches so that the fan base can grow. Spanish rugby is changing a lot, and for the better. The men's league is much stronger this year compared to the previous year: There are many more teams at the top of the table and competitiveness is increasing. In fact, the ball-in-play time has increased by at least 20% compared to last year, which is very good for this sport.
And what do you think of the Iberdrola Women's Rugby League?
There is a lot of room for improvement in order to match the most competitive leagues. The format of the League External link, opens in new window. and how it is organised is quite different from that of the world's main leagues. There is still no fully professional club in Spain, and this is noticeable when competing in the international arena. Because of this, the sponsorship of women's rugby by companies like Iberdrola is very important: The new Liga Iberdrola needs to gain visibility, and we have to make use of it.
Out of the total 31,692 athletes registered for rugby in Spain, only 4,331 are women...
The number of registered players has grown a lot and will continue to grow even more. The good thing about this sport is that girls and boys compete together in the baseline categories until they are 16 years old. This contributes to improvement in the level of the players, and this is transferred to the national team, which is already competitive in the international arena. If our players triumph at the elite level, this will fill more pitches, interest will grow and, consequently, so will the number of players.