It is time more teams were allowed entry to the showpiece event, the Women's Rugby World Cup writes Rachel King. This first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Rugby World.

COUNTING DOWN to the eighth Women’s Rugby World Cup, many are looking  at the line-up and thinking, again, how depressingly short it is. With only 12 teams in three groups, the tournament is a whole eight teams smaller than the male equivalent.

It’s a worry that the inclusion of more nations would lead to big mismatches, with top sides like England and New Zealand crushing less developed opposition. But even last time New Zealand crushed Kazakhstan 79-5 and in 2010 England beat the Kazakhs 82-0.

It’s also not as if large defeats in a World Cup are unique to the women’s game. In 1995, Japan’s men lost 145-17 to New Zealand. After that, they didn’t win a match at a World Cup for two decades. But as South Africa learnt in 2015 you should never write off an underdog.

Spectators love these Cinderella stories. Japan’s performance in 2015 was probably talked about more than New Zealand’s eventual win, despite the fact they missed out on the knockout stages.

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Big sporting competitions are, by their very nature, designed to inspire. For less established teams, playing in the World Cup is as much about opportunity as it is about winning. Hong Kong will compete for the first time this year and the exposure is likely to have a massive impact, even if they do get battered. It’s exactly the kind of progress World Rugby are supposed to lead.

Another concern is the cost of hosting extra teams. It may not be pulling in the big bucks just yet but ventures like Wiggle Honda and the Boat Race prove that when it comes to women’s sport, if you build it they will come, and they’ll pay. Expanding the tournament might not be the most profitable choice but like most women’s sports, rugby is stuck with
a painfully repetitive catch-22: organisations won’t fund it because it doesn’t make money but it can’t make money without funding.

A big part World Rugby’s vision is to reach out and to grow the game. They moved the Women’s World Cup so it didn’t clash with major events. It’s time to revamp the structure.