How the best women’s teams from across the globe can book their place at the tournament in New Zealand
2021 Rugby World Cup Qualifying Process
There’s a little over a year until the best women’s teams converge on New Zealand for the 2021 Rugby World Cup. Nine of the 12 countries taking part are already known, but the qualification process to decide the final three places has been thrown up in the air by the pandemic.
All qualifying matches were due to take place before the end of 2020, but that is looking extremely doubtful due to the postponement of competitions.
There is some good news, however, with the dates confirmed for the Rugby Europe qualifiers. The round-robin tournament was due to take place in September but has now been moved to successive weekends in December.
Ireland, Italy and Scotland will be joined in the tournament by the winner of the Rugby Europe Championship, with the remaining games in that tournament to be played in late October as Spain host Russia (24/25 Oct) and the Netherlands (31 Oct).
The opening match of the RWC 2021 qualifying tournament between Italy and Scotland on the weekend of 5/6 December will double up as the final match of the Six Nations. Ahead of the qualifiers, Scotland have also appointed an interim head coach, Bryan Easson, because Philip Doyle is shielding on medical grounds and will not return to his coaching role following furlough leave.
Ireland will likely play the Rugby Europe Championship winner that same weekend, with the other matches to be played on 12/13 and 19/20 December. The full schedule will be announced once the Rugby Europe Championship has been completed.
The winner of the qualifying tournament will book their place at RWC 2021 while the runners-up will move through to the repêchage.
In other parts of the world, though, there is uncertainty over when qualifiers will be played. The Asia Rugby Championship, which features Hong Kong, Japan and Kazakhstan, was due to take place in March, was postponed until May and now all rugby in the region has been cancelled for the remainder of 2020.
The winner of that tournament qualifies automatically for the World Cup, with the runner-up heading to the repêchage, but teams are now facing a long delay.
The window in which to fit qualifiers is getting ever smaller too, particularly when you consider some 15s players will also be involved in sevens campaigns ahead of the Olympics. Hong Kong, Colombia, Kazakhstan and Samoa, for example, are involved in both the RWC 2021 qualifiers and the repêchage for the Tokyo Games.
The other outstanding fixtures before the World Cup repêchage are play-offs between Samoa and Tonga as well as Colombia and Kenya to determine who takes the other two spots in the four-team event.
The timescale presents a headache for organisers, as does the uncertainty around international travel.
So let’s look at what we do know. The first women’s World Cup to be staged in the southern hemisphere will kick off on 18 September 2021, with the final on 16 October. Games will be played at Waitakere Stadium, Northland Events Centre and Eden Park.
As for the teams, New Zealand, England, France, USA, Canada, Australia and Wales qualified after finishing in the top seven at RWC 2017. South Africa and Fiji booked their places by winning the Rugby Africa Cup and Oceania Rugby Championship respectively.
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