The eighth Women's Rugby World Cup is taking place in Ireland from Aug 9-26, with England defending their title. The first tournament took place in Wales in 1991. From 1994, the event has taken place every four years. But this year's competition has ...
What is it?
The eighth Women’s Rugby World Cup is taking place in Ireland from Aug 9-26, with England defending their title. The first tournament took place in Wales in 1991. From 1994, the event has taken place every four years. But this year’s competition has been brought forward by a year to leave three years between it and the Olympic Games because of the introduction in 2016 of rugby sevens, which many XVs stars also play.
What’s the format?
Twelve teams will take part. As well as traditional rugby nations – such as England, France, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Australia and New Zealand – Spain, Canada, the USA, Japan and Hong Kong are also competing. Scotland, though, failed to qualify.
There are three pools with four teams in each. Each pool winner will continue to the semi-finals. The fourth berth goes to the best second-placed team. But the remaining eight teams will stay until the finals day, playing for 5th to 12th-place seedings. Each team will play five games.
Where is it happening?
The Irish Rugby Football Union was awarded the tournament in 2015. It is being held in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
University College Dublin will host the pool stages and Ulster Rugby’s Belfast home, Kingspan Stadium, will be the venue for the finals and semi-finals. Queens’ University campus will stage games for the lower-seeded teams.
How long until Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 kicks off?
Can I get tickets and how have the sales gone?
This World Cup offers the largest number of tickets ever, with more than 55,000 tickets available across the pool stages and finals.
All 16,000 tickets for the pool stages are sold out. About 10,000 tickets have been sold for the semi-finals day so far, which the tournament organisers say is in line with expectations, and brisk sales are expected once fans know which teams are playing in which of the two Belfast locations.
The England team pictured at Heathrow before leaving for Dublin last week
Sales for the final are strong and the organisers are confident of a full house.
Kingspan Stadium will hold just over 18,000 for the final.
Ticket sales have been strong in England, who are the world’s top team. Tickets are available from ticketmaster.co.uk
Are there big differences to the men’s game?
The games are also 80 minutes long and the rules are the same. But female players point out that because they are not as big as the men, they play a more free-flowing version of the game, which makes for a great spectacle for rugby fans.
Who is in the home nations’ groups?
The three participating home nations, England, Ireland and Wales, are in separate groups. Wales have been drawn in the so-called “pool of death” with New Zealand, 2014 runners-up Canada and the tournament’s lowest- ranked side, Hong Kong. England look to have a relatively easy path to the semi-finals as they will play Italy, Spain and the USA in the pool stages.
Ireland's Claire Molloy takes a selfie photograph with Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar
Hosts Ireland will face tricky games against the always formidable France, Australia, who had neglected the women’s XVs in favour of sevens and won Olympic gold, and Japan, who are fast becoming a force.
Who are the teams to watch?
The defending champions are the bookmakers’ favourites and seen as the team to beat by the opposing teams. The Red Roses have had an excellent season, winning this year’s Six Nations with a Grand Slam and taking the world No 1 spot from New Zealand by defeating the Black Ferns in Rotorua in June. Despite the controversy over the England XVs’ contracts not being renewed post-World Cup, they are the only side to award contracts to players before this tournament.
How long until Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 kicks off?
Hopes will be high for the hosts, who announced themselves as a major force in the women’s game when winning their first Six Nations in 2013, beating England for the first time in the process. They’ve been on an upward trajectory ever since, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 2014 and winning their second Six Nations title in 2015. Ireland, though, suffered a pre-tournament blow when captain and full-back Niamh Briggs was ruled out with an Achilles injury.
They endured a difficult Six Nations campaign this spring and tragedy struck when 20-year-old wing Elli Norkett, who played in the 2014 World Cup, was killed in a car accident. Captained by Carys Phillips, daughter of head coach and former Wales international Rowland Phillips, the Welsh are playing in memory of their team-mate. They look to have injected some fizz into their back line with a large cohort of sevens players who will be heading to the Commonwealth Games next April. But it would be an achievement for the Welsh to take the scalp of Canada or New Zealand.
The Black Ferns have an even better World Cup record than their male counterparts, having won four of the seven tournaments so far, with four consecutive titles from 1998 to 2010. But, despite being ranked second in the world, their all-conquering dominance has waned, perhaps because there is not a women’s equivalent to the Rugby Championship. England, France, Ireland and Wales take each other on every year in the Six Nations, and that seems to have been to the benefit of the northern hemisphere.
Not a traditional rugby force, but the Canadian women have made their mark on the global rugby stage. As well as an Olympic medal-winning sevens programme that saw them beat Team GB (mainly the England Sevens side) in the bronze-medal match, the Canadians can boast the player of the 2014 World Cup in dynamic wing Magali Harvey.
Players to look out for
Sarah Hunter (England)
The No 8, below, was named the World Rugby player of the year for 2016. If the Red Roses are to retain their title, her calm leadership combined with her back-row savvy will be key. This will be Hunter’s third World Cup campaign and the 93-cap veteran has appeared in England’s past 25 games. A model of consistency.
Sene Naoupu (Ireland)
New Zealand-born Naoupu moved to Ireland when husband George joined Connacht in 2011. The pacy back with silky ball-handling skills made her Ireland debut in 2015. She is even more of a key player for her country now that Niamh Briggs is out of action.
England's captain Sarah Hunter will lead her team's defence of the trophy
Hannah Jones (Wales)
At 20, the future is bright for fearless centre Jones, who is just as comfortable playing XVs as she is sevens. The short form of the game has helped to develop her speed in attack. She played her early rugby at the same school that produced Shane Williams.
Shannon Parry (Australia)
Australia may not be considered one of the powerhouses of this tournament but one cannot ignore an Olympic gold medallist. Parry was part of the Australian side that topped the podium in Rio. As captain and leader from the back row, she will inject much needed confidence and professionalism amongst a team of predominantly part-timers.
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