Women’s World

The Women’s World Cup kicks off this week in Ireland and promises to be a great event.

This is how it will work –

This year will be the eighth edition of the event and all matches will be held in Dublin and Belfast, with the final taking place at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on August 26.

The tournament is happening three years after the last event because World Rugby wanted to avoid clashes with other competitions. The Women’s Rugby World Cup will return to a four-year cycle after this year’s edition.

The tournament comprises 12 teams in three pools of four. Ireland, as the host nation, qualified automatically. The remaining top seven teams from the 2014 tournament (England, Canada, France, New Zealand, USA, and Australia) are also automatic qualifiers. Italy and Wales qualified as the top two teams across the 2015 and 2016 Women’s Six Nations. The remaining three qualifiers are Spain, Japan and tournament newbies Hong Kong.

Each pool winner and the best runner-up moves onto the semi-finals.

Pool A: Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wales

Canada skipper Kelly Russell has stated her team’s goal “is to take home the cup” going into this year’s competition. Canada are in it to win it this year and are desperate to avenge their Cup Final defeat in 2014. They face tournament debutants Hong Kong in their opening match and will need to make a big statement, without underestimating their unfancied opponents, before facing tougher opposition. The Canucks have plenty of experience, with 18 squad members from France 2014 in their 2017 squad. 200 family members and friends of the squad will make the trip with them to Ireland, so support won’t be an issue for them either.

Hong Kong coach Jo Hull is fully aware of the enormous task facing her and her squad at the World Cup. However she wants to create a legacy and ensure that Hong Kong will have more opportunities to compete against the world’s best. Second-row Chow Mei-nam was named captain and stated that she wants the other teams to know about Hong Kong rugby and to respect them. This squad worked hard to qualify for the World Cup and are making their first appearance. They are underdogs, but their determination and unpredictability could cause problems for sides that underestimate them.

Four-time champions New Zealand will be skippered by Fiao’o Fa’amausili. The 36-year-old Auckland hooker is in line to win her 50th cap for the Black ferns at RWC 2017. Captain since 2012, Fa’amausili led New Zealand to a second-place finish at home at the International Women’s Rugby Series behind World Champions England last month. That tournament also featured Canada and Australia. Coach Glenn Moore said the victories over Australia and Canada and the loss to England made them aware of what their strengths are and what weaknesses need to be improved on before the World Cup begins. Taking part in this tough series just before the World Cup could prove to be just what the Black Ferns needed to get back to winning titles.

Hooker Carys Phillips will continue to captain Wales going into WRWC 2017. They are excited about facing world class opposition and the lesser known Hong Kong. Wales took part in warm up games against Japan, Spain and England. They played well and are confident going into the tournament having improved their performances and key areas after each game. They have an experienced squad and should do well.

Pool Fixtures
9 August: New Zealand v Wales
9 August: Canada v Hong Kong
13 August: New Zealand v Hong Kong
13 August: Canada v Wales
17 August: Canada v New Zealand
17 August: Wales v Hong Kong

Pool B: England, Italy, Spain, USA

Defending champions England will not lack experience. The squad boasts over 1000 Test caps. Centre Rachael Burford, the world’s most-capped female player Rochelle Clark, second-row and fellow Test centurion Tamara Taylor and full-back Danielle Waterman are appearing in their fourth World Cup. World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year 2016 Sarah Hunter will captain the side. She skippered the Red Roses in a Six Nations Grand Slam victory this year and her vice-captain is Team Great Britain captain from Rio 2016 Emily Scarratt. Fifteen members from the victorious 2014 WRWC remain, including 5 Team GB players from Rio 2016. England are unbeaten this year and recently replaced New Zealand as the number one team in the world. They are definitely the favourites to claim another World Cup win.

Italy’s first World Cup appearance since 2002 has been boosted by the return of veterans Veronica Schiavon and Silvia Gaudino. Fly-half Schiavon will add a calm and talented head to their back-line, while flanker and captain Gaudino is a stalwart in the loose trio. This team knows England and other top nations well from Six Nations rugby. They could cause an upset or two.

Spain’s squad also boasts plenty of experience and they are gunning for a top seven finish at this year’s event. Hooker Aroa González will lead their charge. She boasts 68 Test caps for Las Leonas and she came out of retirement two years ago to help Spain qualify for this year’s World Cup. The 38-year-old will play in her third Women’s Rugby World Cup. Four players have appeared in two World Cups, while a further 11 were in the squad for the France 2014 campaign.

1991 champions the USA have named what should be a typically fit, fast and athletic squad. Thirteen of them appeared in this year’s Sevens Series, including Naya Tapper who scored 32 tries. Watch out for these ladies.

Pool Fixtures
9 August: England v Spain
9 August: USA v Italy
13 August: England v Italy
13 August: USA v Spain
17 August: England v USA
17 August: Italy v Spain

Pool C: Australia, France, Ireland, Japan

Australia’s squad has been boosted by the introduction of two Olympic gold medallists. Sevens co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry are also appearing in their third World Cup. This experience and talent will need to step up and boost a Walleroos side that is in poor form. In the International Women’s Rugby Series they suffered massive defeats to England, New Zealand and Canada.

France have also turned to their Sevens stars for inspiration. Almost half of the squad was a part of the side that played in the World Series this year. Hooker Gaëlle Mignot will skipper the squad. She is one of four playing in their fourth tournament. A further seven players took part in the 2014 competion at home where they finished third. Keep an eye on bulldozing number eight Safi N’Diaye.

All eyes will be on hosts Ireland this year. Despite losing their inspirational captain Niamh Briggs to an Archilles injury, the home support should shift this side into top gear. Inspiration from playing for their injured skipper and their nation will be even further fuelled by the self-belief they gained from a historic defeat of New Zealand at RWC 2014. They ended the Black Ferns’ 20-match unbeaten record and became the first Irish rugby side in history to defeat New Zealand at any level.

Japan are back for the first time since 2002. Despite their long absence from World Cup rugby, coach Goshi Arimizu is targeting a top eight finish. The Sakura 15s won the Asia/Oceania qualifier in Hong Kong to secure qualification and defended their Asia Rugby Women’s Championship title in the build up to this event. They are hungry and have started to peak at exactly the right time. Watch out for the youngest player on the WRWC squad-17-year-old high school player, Moe Tsukui.

Pool Fixtures
9 August: Ireland v Australia
9 August: France v Japan
13 August: Ireland v Japan
13 August: France v Australia
17 August: Australia Japan
17 August: France v Ireland

The tournament is being broadcast live on ITV

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Will be well worth watching – the skill levels and physicality are impressive in the Women’s game.

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