Within the space of six and a bit months in 2016, Spain reached the final of World Rugby U20 Trophy at the first attempt, the men’s and women’s sevens sides strutted their stuff at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after winning the global repechage events and the Spanish women's 15s side booked their place at Women's Rugby World Cup 2017.

So, Spain’s senior men’s 15s side have a lot to live up to as the Rugby Europe Championship looms into view.

The six-team competition starts 11 February and doubles as a Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying event over the course of this year and next.

"This tournament is becoming more competitive every year and every team gets tougher and are better prepared."

Spain captain Jaime Nava

As it will be 20 years since their last appearance at a Rugby World Cup by the time the next tournament comes around, everyone involved in Spanish rugby – not least long-serving captain Jaime Nava – is keen to put that long wait to rest.

Nava has played in 66 tests, 12 as captain, converting from centre/wing to the back row in the latter half of his 14-year international career, but has never appeared at the game’s showcase event. Even for such a veteran, the 1999 tournament came too soon.

“Going into the Rugby Europe Championship, we know what is at stake and are ready. We have to start off on the right foot,” said Nava, ahead of his side’s opening game at home to Russia, a fixture that they won convincingly back in February 2015.

“This tournament is becoming more competitive every year and every team gets tougher and are better prepared. Georgia are always the best team and Romania are always difficult, but you can’t underestimate anyone.

Tough challenge lies ahead

“I envisage a tournament where the result of every game will be important and where every point and every bonus point secured will count.

“The ticket to Japan will be decided by details, that is how tough it will be.”

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Only twice before, in 2012 (runners-up to Georgia) and in 2015 (third), have Spain achieved the top half of the table finish that would keep their Rugby World Cup 2019 dream truly alive going into the 2018 Championship.

The best-placed side other than the pre-qualified Georgia will progress to Japan 2019 as Europe 1. The next in line will still be in the mix, needing to win a European play-off against a team from a lower division and then a game against the third ranked team in Oceania to secure their qualification spot.

Ranked 22nd in the World Rugby Rankings following an impressive 33-16 win over Uruguay in November, Los Leones go into the Rugby Europe Championship in good heart.

“We have a good team: competitive, with experienced players playing at a good standard in France. Although we haven’t had the chance to be together as much as we would have wanted due to the different competitions, it is clear that Spanish rugby is growing.

“One of the positive symptoms is the national team. We are starting the Championship hopeful and confident that we have what it takes to be in Japan 2019.”