England captain Sarah Hunter expected a challenging draw but is excited for the tournament next year
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
England Women have been handed a challenging draw for next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Simon Middleton’s side being grouped with France, South Africa and Fiji in Pool C.
If England’s task appears daunting, spare a thought for Wales, who must take on hosts New Zealand and Australia.
Ireland and Scotland are yet to qualify for the 12-team tournament. The Irish and Scots had been due to play against Italy and Spain in a European qualifying tournament next month, which has been postponed due to coronavirus. The winners of that tournament will be in Pool B alongside the United States and Canada.
The draw took place at SkyCity Theatre in Auckland in front of a crowd of 400, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former All Black Dan Carter in attendance.
England captain Sarah Hunter said she had a hunch her side would draw old foes France, who they have played four times in the past 12 months and will play at Twickenham on Saturday.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern helped with the draw in Auckland
“I just had this gut feeling we were going to be drawn against France, I don’t know what it was about it,” she said.
“They’re one of our rival teams who we have regular encounters with and they’re always hard fought and entertaining for the neutral.
“If we want to win the World Cup we’re going to have to play the best teams along the way so if they’re in our pool that is what we focus on.”
Les Bleues are currently ranked fourth in the world behind England, New Zealand and Canada. Meanwhile South Africa, who have not invested in the women’s game in recent years at the same rate as other Tier One nations, are ranked 13th in the world and the Fijians 22nd. The seedings were based on rankings from Jan 1 this year, as restrictions imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus meant none of the southern hemisphere teams were able to play this year.
Hunter was impressed with the star-studded draw and hopes it is a sign of things to come when the World Cup kicks off at Eden Park, Auckland on September 18 next year. It is the first time a women’s final will be played at a stadium which has hosted a men’s final.
“I thought there was a sense of what the competition was going to be and, if that’s the draw, how big is the tournament going to be? You got a feeling this could be the biggest World Cup there has been in the women’s game,” said Hunter.
Ardern, speaking after the draw, said: “This World Cup is an opportunity – an opportunity to grow the game here but also internationally an opportunity to showcase our elite athletes and provide inspiration for girls, and boys – and an opportunity to break down gender discrimination in sport.
“We are committed to a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021 and we can’t wait to welcome all 12 teams to New Zealand.”