Sport

NEW ZEALAND WAITING

The long wait is over for Women’s World Cup Rugby

The long wait is over for Women’s World Cup Rugby
Sizo Solontsi (Co-Captain) of South Africa during Women's Challenge Quarter Finals match between South Africa and Japan on day 2 of the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 at DHL Stadium on 10 September 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)

After being postponed because of Covid-19, the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is eventually going to  happen. 

It’s been a trying journey to arrive at this point. However, on 8 October the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) will finally start after being postponed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the tournament, which takes place in New Zealand, 11 nations will try to dethrone the hosts and reigning champions.

There are three pools consisting of four teams each. South Africa, who missed out on the 2017 edition, will kick things off when the Springbok Women play the opening encounter against fourth-ranked France in Pool C at Eden Park in Auckland.

The two other teams in Pool C, Fiji and England, clash three hours later in the same stadium, after which the standings will begin to take shape.

Each nation will be fighting for a place in the knockout phase, which begins with the quarterfinals. This means only four of the 12 competing teams will have been eliminated after the pool stage.

The Boks, who are underdogs in their pool, will aim to finish at least as one of the two best third-placed teams in the group phase. This will be their best chance of reaching the knockout stage.

This means the South Africans, currently ranked 11th in the world, will need to keep the damage to a minimum in their duels against France and top-ranked England in order to qualify for the knockout stages. They will be confident in their ability to beat Fiji, ranked 21st.

“We’re under no illusions. We’re playing No 1 [England] and No 4 [France] in the world, so the challenge is massive. We need to go out in the mind frame of let’s enjoy the experience and hopefully from this experience we can build,” said head coach Stanley Raubenheimer.

“Realistically, if we look at our pool, Fiji is a game that we can look to really perform, and if the result goes our way it will be a really pleasing experience for our squad. That’s the one team we want to [beat]. If everything goes well from a process point of view and from a rugby principle point of view, we should give ourselves a very good account in that game.”

Top contenders

England head into the World Cup in fantastic form and as the side to beat. They claimed the Grand Slam in their Six Nations triumph earlier this year, the fourth consecutive time they lifted the trophy.

England also have a superb record in RWCs. In the eight that have taken place since 1991, their worst finish was third place in 1998. They have finished as runners-up on five occasions, including the 2017 edition in Ireland.

This means the English are comfortably one of the most consistent teams at RWC showpieces. Nonetheless, they only have two gold medals to show for it – 1994 in Scotland and 2014 in France.

New Zealand, though, have completely dominated RWCs, having claimed five trophies, including four in succession between 1998 and 2010.

The final match on opening day is a trans-Tasman clash between the Black Ferns and neighbours Australia. The two sides have met on 22 occasions, and the New Zealanders were victorious in them all.

In their last match before the RWC, New Zealand won 95-12 against Japan.

Star winger and Sevens player Portia Woodman bagged seven tries. In the 2017 RWC she scored an incredible eight tries against Hong Kong.

Portia Woodman of the Black Ferns dives over to score a try during the International Women’s test match between the New Zealand Black Ferns and Japan at Eden Park on 24 September 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Woodman, along with her Sevens compatriots Sarah Hirini and Stacey Fluhler, will be an imposing prospect for all the Black Ferns’ opponents.

No team has ever won the RWC title at home, but betting against the hosts to secure their sixth World Cup trophy this year is a brave call.

France have an astonishing six third-placed RWC finishes and have never made it to the final of the event. England and New Zealand are always standing in their way.

The French have an opportunity to put one over the English early in their group stage match, but they have only beaten England once in their last five meetings – a tight 18-17 win in 2018.

France head into the RWC in decent form, having finished this season’s Six Nations in second place – winning four of their five matches and losing only to England.

Raubenheimer was appointed as head coach of the Springbok Women’s squad in 2018 and has been with them since. His side won the 2019 Rugby Africa Women’s Cup, which allowed them to qualify for this showpiece.

Raubenheimer would have had only three years to prepare for the RWC, but the pandemic added a year.

“The pandemic worked for us in that regard as it gave us an extra year to prepare as the tournament was moved to 2022, and we are going to New Zealand knowing that we have given ourselves the best chance possible,” said Raubenheimer.

The Springbok Women’s side have used the extra year to build their squad depth and nail down their tactics.

Their impressive 2022 record reads six matches played and five won.

They handed out lashings to Zimbabwe (108-0) and Namibia (128-3) in their first outings of the year. They then travelled to Japan, where they lost their first encounter 15-6 before beating the hosts 20-10 in the second. They followed that up by beating Spain twice on home soil.

“I feel a sense of anticipation now thinking back to where we started and how we have grown, and that we are now ready to take on the best teams in the world.

“We have our objectives and one of them is to not only make the country proud with our effort, but ourselves as well,” said Raubenheimer. DM168

Players to watch in the Women’s Rugby World Cup

Portia Woodman (New Zealand)
Portia Woodman is easily one of the most impressive women’s rugby players of all time. A force to be reckoned with in Sevens rugby (she was named Player of the Decade in 2020), the wing was part of New Zealand’s 2017 World Cup triumph. A 2020 Olympic gold medallist, Woodman has 31 tries in 20 tests. She will be keen to add to that tally and also help New Zealand to defend their title.

Emily Scarratt (England)
If the Red Roses are to wrestle the title they won in 2014 away from New Zealand, Emily Scarratt is likely to play a part. The talented centre, who is the side’s best point scorer of all time, is taking part in her fourth World Cup. At 32 years old, her career is winding down. As such she would love to add another World Cup to her stunning list of accolades, which include being named Player of the Tournament at the 2020 Six Nations.

Emily Scarratt of England kicks a conversion during the Women’s international match between England Red Roses and USA at Sandy Park on 03 September 2022 in Exeter, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Hope Rogers (USA)
Prop Hope Rogers will play in her third World Cup, having also competed in 2014 and 2017. Since making her World Cup debut as a 20-year-old, the American has steadily established herself as one of the finest props active in rugby. She averages just under one try a game for club and country in 2022 – an impressive return considering her position. 

Hope Rogers of USA is tackled during the Challenge Trophy final between USA and Ireland on day two of the HSBC Women’s Rugby Sevens Kitakyushu at Mikuni World Stadium Kitakyushu on 22 April 2018 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

 

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