Waipukurau is a world away from Laura Delgado Dueñas’ home city of Jerez in southern Spain – where the local sports field is named in her honour.
But it’s here in the Central Hawkes Bay town where the Spanish rugby captain has been living and playing for the last couple of months, as she continues to live out her rugby dream.
Known in Spain by her nickname Bimba, Delgado Dueñas arrived in New Zealand on the back of a full season for the Exeter Chiefs club in England, where she helped them win the 2022 Allianz Cup.
Next season, Delgado Dueñas will be playing for rival club Gloucester-Hartpury. But before then, she was determined to fulfil one of her rugby ambitions.
“When Gloucester offered me a contract, one of the things they needed to know was that I was going to New Zealand in June and July – because it’s a dream for me to play rugby here,” Delgado Dueñas says.
The 32-year-old loosehead prop played the full 80 minutes for Hawkes Bay Tui in their Farah Palmer Cup opener against Otago Spirit in Hastings last Saturday and will line up again for them this Sunday afternoon when they take on North Harbour Hibiscus in Albany.
From there, Delgado Dueñas will travel to South Africa to join up with her international teammates, known as “Las Leonas”, for a two-test series against the Springboks.
The first test will be played at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg as a curtain-raiser to the Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and the All Blacks on August 13, while the second will be played at the Fanie du Toit Stadium in Potchefstroom on August 19.
Ideally, Delgado Dueñas’s next rugby assignment would be back here in New Zealand, for the Rugby World Cup starting on October 8.
But after qualifying for the 2014 and 2017 tournaments, Spain – currently ranked 10th in the world – failed to make it through this time, after taking part in their European qualifying tournament in Italy last September.
Although they beat Ireland 8-7 in their opening match, they lost to Scotland 27-22 before going down 34-10 to the Italian hosts in their final clash.
Instead, Delgado Dueñas will be returning to England for the Allianz Cup round robin pool stages start in September, before the Allianz Premier 15s season in November once the Rugby World Cup is over.
Delgado Dueñas’s rugby career back home in Spain started relatively late. Her family were passionate about athletics, and she was a high performing hammer thrower, who had aspirations of representing Spain at the Olympics.
A motorbike accident curtailed that ambition and in time, a new door opened.
“When I was 18 years old, one of our friends told me to try rugby and I fell in love with it,” she says. “I was throwing the hammer at a high level and when I decided to play rugby instead, no-one around me could believe I would change. But I loved the sport and its values.”
Delgado Dueñas, who made her debut for the Spanish national team in 2014 before becoming captain in 2018. Last year, the sports complex in her hometown was named Laura Delgado Dueñas Bimba in honour of her outstanding rugby career.
Delgado Dueñas at the naming ceremony in her hometown.
Here in New Zealand, ‘Bimba’ has brought a new dimension to the Tui squad.
“I’m a person who likes to travel and learn other cultures and I’ve had the opportunity to play for teams around the world” says Delgado Dueñas. “The Tui is my 12th rugby team. I’ve played in Spain, France, USA, England and now New Zealand.”
Napier Tech and Tui player Michaela Baker previously played in northwest Spain for the CRATA Coruña side and passed Delgado Dueñas the contact details of Mary-Jane Durkin, the women’s high performance manager for Hawkes Bay Rugby.
“She brings a wealth of experience as a prop having played in so many countries around the world” says Durkin.
“Her positive demeanour and understanding of high performance is very evident. With Spain having missed out on a spot for this year’s World Cup, she took the opportunity to connect with us, as playing in the Farah Palmer Cup was on her bucket list,” she says.
Delgado Dueñas has loved her time in the region and being with a new group of teammates. As well as representing Tui, she’s played for the Central Hawkes Bay club and has been living with Hawkes Bay Magpies players Joel Hintz and Zach Simpson.
“I feel part of the team,” says Delgado Dueñas. “I appreciate them and they appreciate me and I always try to give 100 percent. I’m a very energetic person and I like to share my energy and my experience with them, and I feel part of this family already. I feel very, very lucky to have the opportunity to come here.”
Having played in the 2017 Rugby World Cup in Ireland, Delgado Dueñas is determined to play in the 2025 tournament in England and is positive about her country’s qualification chances.
“In Spain, we are improving our performance. We are seeing more players coming through at a younger age. We are in a new generation [of players] and it’s very exciting,” she says.
Although women’s 15-a-side rugby in Spain is currently amateur (the sevens game is professional as it’s an Olympic sport), there’s a competitive top division with eight teams, as well as a second division and regional leagues. Some of her Delgado Dueñas’ national teammates are also playing professionally in England and France.
Spain were previously part of the Five Nations competition in Europe in 2000 and 2001, as well as the Six Nations format that replaced it from 2002. But despite performing well (they finished third in 2004, and fourth in 2002 and 2005), the Six Nations committee approved the replacement of Spain with Italy – bringing the women’s competition teams in line with the men’s from 2007.
“We need to find more high-level games. As we are not part of the Six Nations tournament, we are always fighting [to get some],” she says.
When she finishes playing, Delgado Dueñas would like to work in sports management (she has a degree in business management and administration, and a Master’s in management of sports facilities). But before then, she has plenty to give to the game she’s so passionate about.
“I love the ambience; I love the values and I love how I can improve every day. I feel very lucky to be able to have all these opportunities around the world,” she says.
“For me, the challenge to adapt and give 100 percent to my team makes me happy.”
*Hawkes Bay Tui play North Harbour Hibiscus on Sunday 12pm at North Harbour Stadium, Albany; live coverage on Sky Sport 1.