MARIETTE ADAMS looks ahead to the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off in Dublin on Wednesday.
There are 12 teams, split into three pools. The pool winners and the best runners-up will qualify for the semi-finals.
Pool A: New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Wales
With two of women’s rugby’s heavyweight teams, New Zealand and Canada (ranked second and third in the World Rugby rankings), grouped together, this is undoubtedly the pool of death.
Canada reached the final three years ago and will hope to go one better this year. The Canucks have 18 remaining squad members from the side that travelled to France in 2014 and the experience of those players will be vital to their cause.
Four-time champions New Zealand had to settle for a fifth-place finish at the previous World Cup and will be looking to restore lost pride. Captain Fiao’o Fa’amausili will earn her 50th Test cap in their opening game against Wales.
With only the top seed of the pool certain of a place in the semi-finals, the match between the Black Ferns and Canucks will be crucial. Depending on results from the other pools, both New Zealand and Canada could advance to the knockout stage.
Pool B: England, Italy, Spain, USA
Defending champions and No 1-ranked England are hot favourites to retain the trophy they won in 2014.
They won’t be wanting for experience. Four players – centre Rachael Burford, prop Rochelle Clark (the world’s most capped female player), lock Tamara Taylor and fullback Danielle Waterman – will be appearing in their fourth consecutive World Cup, while the current World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year Sarah Hunter is also in the squad.
The USA, Spain and Italy – ranked seventh, eighth and ninth respectively – are expected to vie for second spot in this pool. Thirteen of the USA’s squad members are sevens specialists, who played on the women’s circuit this year.
Pool C: Australia, France, Ireland, Japan
This pool holds plenty of star power. Hosts Ireland are favourites to finish top, but they were dealt a massive blow in the lead-up to the tournament when inspirational captain Niamh Briggs was ruled out of the World Cup with an Achilles injury.
France, as the highest ranked team in this pool, should not be discounted as they too have added sevens players to boost their backline.
Australia are the dark horses. The Wallaroos included Olympic gold medalists Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry and the sevens co-captains are expected to bring their array of skills into the fifteens team.
Anyone of the three above mentioned sides could go through as the top qualifier, while there is also an outside chance that the team coming second could pip Pool A’s second side as the next-best qualifier to complete the semi-final lineup.
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