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 less than 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 and the pool draw will take place on 20 November in Auckland, with New Zealand, England and Canada the top seeds based on World Rugby Rankings.

However, 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 will not be possible due to the postponement of competitions.

The RWC 2021 European qualifiers, which are due to feature Ireland, Italy, Scotland and the winner of the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship, have now been postponed until early 2021.

The round-robin tournament was scheduled to take place in December but with the remaining fixtures in the Rugby Europe Championship – Spain v Russia and Spain v Netherlands – already postponed and continued challenges due to Covid-19 this has now been delayed as well.

2021 Rugby World Cup Qualifying Process

Taste of success: Spain celebrate winning the Rugby Europe Championship last year (Getty Images)

A Rugby Europe statement said: “With the COVID-19 situation in Europe presenting continued travel and quarantine challenges for some teams, the decision was made to postpone and identify an optimal opportunity for the tournament to rescheduled in early 2021.

“World Rugby and Rugby Europe continue to consult with unions and Six Nations Rugby Limited regarding a window that provides a fair opportunity to deliver the Europe qualifier, who will qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand. The runner-up will progress to the final qualification tournament to be held in 2021.”

Women’s Six Nations organisers have also taken the decision to cancel the three remaining matches of the 2020 championship that had been postponed due to Covid – Italy v Scotland, Wales v Scotland and France v Ireland.

There is also uncertainty in other parts of the world 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 the 2021 Women’s Six Nations is due to take place in February-March and that some 15s players will also be involved in sevens campaigns ahead of the Olympics. Hong Kong, Colombia and Kazakhstan, for example, are involved in both the RWC 2021 qualifiers and the repêchage for the Tokyo Games.

Related: Olympic preparations for sevens teams up in the air

One fixture that has taken place is the play-off between Samoa and Tonga to determine who would take part in the four-team repêchage tournament. Samoa were comfortable 40-0 winners in that fixture at Trusts Arena in New Zealand.

Another outstanding fixture before the repêchage is the play-off between Colombia and Kenya.

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.

The 2021 World Cup pool draw has also been made with the hosts drawn with Australia, Wales and the FQT winner in Pool A. Pool B consists of Canada, USA, Europe 1 and Asia 1. England are in Pool C with France, South Africa and Fiji.

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