Top-ranked England and France have been drawn in the same pool for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, while the hosts and holders, New Zealand, were drawn with Australia at a ceremony in Auckland on Friday.
USA and third-ranked Canada will be in Pool B for the 12-team tournament that will be held in the southern hemisphere for the first time.
“It is interesting how the pools have come out,” the New Zealand captain, Eloise Blackwell, said. “We have an Australasian pool, North American and European. Every time we come up against Australia it is a massive battle. But we’re not going to be defending the title, we’re out there to win it.”
The two-times winners England and fourth-ranked France will be joined by Fiji and South Africa in Pool C. Ninth-ranked Wales and the team that wins the final qualifying tournament will join the Black Ferns and Wallaroos in Pool A. The North American sides will be joined by qualifiers from Asia and Europe in Pool B for the tournament scheduled to run from 18 September to 16 October 2021.
Australia coach Dwayne Nestor said no pool was easy, with his side looking to improve on their sixth-placed finish in 2017. “It’s not going to be anything new with us playing the Kiwis, Wales have just picked up a new coach in Warren Abrahams, and then the qualifier,” Nestor said on Friday.
“If you want to win a World Cup, you’re looking at winning every game regardless of who gets put in your pool. I said to the girls a couple of years ago, ‘we will beat the Black Ferns’ and if it happens to be at the World Cup that will be a nice environment to do it in.”
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, attended the draw and said the tournament would take on added significance for rugby and women’s sport.
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“Pre-Covid-19 this tournament was going to be important to New Zealand,” Ardern said. “Now it takes on an extra special dimension for the whole world. This is huge for us. I would like to think that we are trying to show leadership around women in sport. We need to demonstrate that people want to come out and support our Black Ferns because they are exceptional athletes, not women athletes, athletes.”
The seedings were based on rankings from 1 January 2020 as restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus meant none of the southern hemisphere teams were able to play this year. Matches will be held in Auckland and Whangarei, with the final at Eden Park, which hosted the 1987 and 2011 men’s World Cup finals.