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Malaga's rugby players, a powerful force off the field too

Meals being prepared for the disadvantaged at Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche.
Meals being prepared for the disadvantaged at Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche. / Henry Flynn
  • With success building on the pitch and a desire to help in their local community, Club de Rugby Málaga are making a name for themselves

The scene is pleasant and good-natured. Tucked away within the dusty streets and alleyways of Malaga's La Trinidad area, a group of rugby players begin their weekend's work, and it's not the hustle of a scrum or the scramble of a mall they are engaged in, but instead the careful preparation of packed lunches which are to be delivered to disadvantaged members of the local community.

"We are not just beer-drinking guys doing stupid stuff," says Hamilton Bone, a hooker for Club de Rugby Málaga, who play in Andalucía's top division. "We are professional people."

The club has philanthropy at its heart and regularly helps out with local charities. On this occasion, they are assisting Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, a non-profit organisation that strives to provide food and clothes to those in need. The soup kitchen is full of activity, as a conveyor belt of bread is cut, filled with ham or cheese and then packed into bags along with a small tub of yoghurt and a magdalena cake, all to the rhythm of friendly chatter and cooperation.

"Two years ago, I thought we needed to do something different within the club. I thought that it would be a great way to show Malaga and the local people that we are mature and something serious," says Bone, who is also the club's philanthropy chairman and recruiter.

"Every month and a half I say to the guys: 'Let's organise an event!' whether it is with this charity, or any other non-profit organisation.

"The charities are very easy to collaborate with, and they often call us when they need help."

Greater team unity

Such a culture ingrained within the club has also had an impact on the pitch. Last season, the side were a whisker away from reaching Spain's semi-professional second tier, La División de Honor B, only to lose over two legs to Madrid side Cau Metropolitano in the play-offs.

"The more time that you spend together off the field, the better the team gels together. We had an amazing year last year when we finished second in the league.

"I think one of the key pillars of being a rugby team is looking after the other person. You help someone when they're down."

Jorge Martínez, 36, plays flanker, and credits the spirit within the squad: "We all have knowledge of how we want to play, and have a gameplan which everyone is learning well. It's not so much a team, but more a family," he says after a gruelling fitness session at the Eshmún Sport Clinic, a state-of-the-art facility in Malaga, where the boys are put through their paces to the sound of booming music, as the evening light dims.

"The key is in how we all know each other well on the pitch. Many members of the team have known each other for at least seven years.

"A sport like rugby is about sacrifice for the sake of the team and for the game. For the majority of time you are not playing with the ball. It's about contributing to the team so that the others can play."

"One big, giant family"

Club de Rugby Málaga is diverse, attracting people from far and wide. "Our idea for our club is to have one big, giant family," says Bone.

"Right now we are a mix of boys and girls and men and women, from the ages of three up until some old boys who are probably in their sixties who come out to socialise with us.

"We have French members at the club, Italians, Irish, Spanish, Argentinian, Paraguayan, Americans, and more."

Spain's second division attracts talent from some of the world's most prominent rugby nations, such as England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. But should the team make the next step up, the target will not be to make wholesale changes to the group.

"Our idea is to play there with just the boys that we have here, and to compete with our own resources", says Bone.

The club is currently going through a transitional period, as members from the lower ranks are making the step up to the first team where they will be looking to make a contribution next season.

Martínez adds that the desire to compete for places and to improve runs throughout the squad: "The youngsters come here with a strong attitude, with an appetite to train hard, spend time in the gym and be professional. Next season the hope is to be promoted."

The club divide their home games between the University of Malaga's sports stadium and Rincón de la Victoria, where matches attract modest support.

A growing sport in Spain

Though club rugby has not taken off in Spain, it has shown itself capable of attracting respectable audiences at international level. In November 2016, a friendly match was organised between Spain and Uruguay, attended by over ten thousand supporters who packed Ciudad de Málaga stadium.

"I can not recall the stadium being so full before for a sporting event. It was sensational," says Martínez who admits that rugby is still a minority sport in Spain.

"The people who are strangers to rugby, don't know about the leagues in the country. I think that many compare it to American football," he adds. Despite this, though: "The people who are aware of the Spanish and Andalusian leagues know that Club de Rugby Málaga is a club with a lot of tradition in the region."

After narrowly missing promotion, Club de Rugby Málaga will once again battle Andalucía's best teams this coming campaign, which starts in late September.

Among their closest challengers will likely be C. A. R. Sevilla, who finished third behind the team last time around, and C. D. Universidad de Granada, added to the league after their relegation from División de Honor B.

The target for the new season is clear; to be promoted. And going by the club's unique spirit and attitude, this is a realistic aspiration. "We would love more people to come and watch," says Bone. "It motivates us when we play and the matches are always free to attend."