It’s time! After five years’ wait, the Rugby World Cup finally gets underway at Eden Park today. Here’s our guide to get you started on the five-week tournament in Aotearoa.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH:
There’s a heap of firsts at this tournament.
This is the first time the women’s version of the Rugby World Cup will be played in New Zealand, and in the Southern Hemisphere. And it’s the first World Cup tournament to go ahead since the Covid pandemic began (remember this event was delayed a year, and why it’s still called RWC2021).
For the first time there are 12 nations competing – Scotland return after a 12-year hiatus, and Fijiana make their first appearance at a 15s women’s World Cup.
It will be the first time one ground has hosted both a women’s and a men’s World Cup final (that will be Eden Park on November 12).
A sell-out crowd of 47,000 will pack into Eden Park for today’s opening day – a world record for a women’s rugby match, and the first time Eden Park has been filled for a women’s sporting event. The Black Ferns will also play to a full house (4500) at Waitākere Stadium for their second match, against Wales, on October 16.
Games will be played between three venues – Eden Park and Waitākere Stadium in Auckland and the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei. All days in pool play are triple-headers. And games are only played on the weekends for the next five weeks.
For the first time, all players can wear smart mouthguards, to help understand and prevent head injuries in the game – part of World Rugby’s new priority for player welfare.
It’s the first time poi will be handed out free to everyone attending the games – part of the Wā Poi (It’s Poi Time) movement to get the crowd twirling poi to support the teams (ka rawe!).
It’s also the first time it won’t be called the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Just the Rugby World Cup. As it should be.
And women’s rugby is its own brand of exciting, fast-paced, big-hitting, clever ball-handling game. If you haven’t watched it before, now’s the perfect time to start.
WHO TO WATCH:
The Black Ferns are the defending champions – having brought ‘Nancy’ home from Ireland at the last World Cup in 2017. If you hear the Black Ferns referring to Nancy, they named the trophy after Nancy Wake, New Zealand’s highly-decorated Resistance fighter in the Second World War.
New Zealand have won the World Cup a record five times, but this is the first time they’ve played a World Cup on home soil. The Black Ferns have co-captains: back Ruahei Demant and forward Kennedy Simon; and two of the team – Kendra Cocksedge and Renee Wickliffe are playing in their fourth World Cups.
After a demoralising tour of the Northern Hemisphere last year, thumped by England and France, there’s been a change of culture and a change of leadership, with one of rugby’s greatest minds, Wayne Smith, called in specifically for this campaign. They’ve had All Blacks, like kicking maestro Dan Carter, helping them out, too.
Fun fact 1: The Black Ferns have never lost their opening match in their seven campaigns at the Rugby World Cup (their largest victory: 134-6 over Germany in 1998).
England, currently ranked No.1 in the world, are the RWC favourites – sitting on a 25-match winning streak since 2019 (including two serious drubbings of the Black Ferns a year ago). But England have never beaten the Black Ferns in a World Cup match.
Fijiana preparing in a cold Auckland for the RWC2021 to kick off.
Fiji – otherwise known as Rooster Chicken Fijiana 15s – will make their debut at a women’s 15s World Cup. They’ve been through their fair share of hardship to get here, and they’re hungry to play. Fijiana meet England first-up at Eden Park today at 4.45pm.
Fun fact 2: The captain of the third-ranked Canadian side, Sophie de Goede, is the offspring of two former Canadian (women’s and men’s) rugby captains – Stephanie White and Hans de Goede. She’s inherited the perfect mix of their athletic genes, too.
Teams who could upset: Italy, who won two Six Nations games this season, and now have their top players contracted; Wales, who were third in the 2022 Six Nations and whose players are now professional; Fijiana, who boast six of their legendary sevens team in the squad; and South Africa, if you listen to prop Babalwa Latsha: “I think we are the fastest and most improved team in the world rugby scheme of things”.
HOW IT ALL WORKS:
Teams are split between three pools, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals, along with the two next-best teams (New Zealand are in a pool with Australia, Wales and Scotland).
The quarterfinals will be matched up by a seeding system, based on their final pool placement and competition points scored – where the top seeded team faces the lowest, second faces seventh, and so on.
On finals day at Eden Park, there will be a bronze medal play-off, before the final.
It’s a World Rugby tournament, but with a New Zealand team – led by the highly-experienced tournament director Michelle Hooper – running it. So it should be a pretty slick event.
HOW TO WATCH IT:
Well, first of all, you can go. There are still tickets available for all but one of the 10 days (Sunday October 16 at Waitākere has already sold out).
Admission has been affordably priced, to help get more people watching women’s rugby. Tickets are $5 for children and from $10 for adults.
Not only do you get top-flight rugby, but you get musical entertainment thrown in too. Rita Ora will perform on the opening day, after Fiji take on England and at half-time in the New Zealand vs Australia battle. The British pop star has almost 11.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify, with her singles frequently topping UK charts.
Local stars are performing too: LADI6 (Day 2 in Whangārei), Shapeshifter (semifinal at Eden Park) and BENEE (finals day).
All 26 matches over the next five weekends will be broadcast live on Spark Sport. They’ve partnered with Three, who’ll show eight of those matches free-to-air – but delayed.
Those eight games are the Black Ferns’ three pool encounters, two of the quarterfinals, the semifinals and final on November 12. Only the semis and the final will be shown live – otherwise there will be an hour’s delay (except for the Black Ferns v Scotland on October 12, which will be screened 2 ½ hours after the game has finished; probably because of the 6pm news).
* RWC2021 games this weekend – Day One, Saturday (Eden Park, Auckland): South Africa v France, 2.15pm; England v Fiji, 4.45pm; New Zealand v Australia, 7.15pm.
Day Two, Sunday (Northland Events Centre, Whangārei): USA v Italy, 12.45pm; Japan v Canada, 3.15pm; Wales v Scotland, 5.45pm.