The Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks-off on Friday – here, we take a look at each of the pools, breaking down what to expect from each team, and a player to watch in each group.
Pool A – Canada, England, Samoa and Spain
Last year’s runners-up England will be looking to go one better this campaign. Five of their players (Maggie Alphonsi, Rachael Burford, Tamara Taylor, Danielle Waterman and Rochelle Clark) are completing a hat-trick of World Cups having also been selected in 2006 and 2010. There are nine new comers in Gary Street’s squad – however, experience isn’t lacking, as they share a total of 219 caps between them.
Among those standing in their way are pool opponents Canada. Like England their squad contains a core of experienced players with experience of the biggest stage. 2010 saw them finish in sixth place but the Canadians are in strong form this time around, racking up a 2-0 series win over USA before beating Australia and narrowly losing out to defending World Champions the Black Ferns on two occasions.
The other teams making up pool A come in the form of Samoa and Spain. Samoa, who face England in their first pool game, will be looking to create problems for the perceived stronger squads in the group, with their pride and passion emulating that of their male counterparts in the blue of Samoa, while Spain will be looking to cause an upset, keen to prove they are not just there to make up the numbers.
One to watch: Mandy Marchak (Canada) – A mainstay in the Canadian squad for both sevens and 15s, her experience will be vital in a squad with many new faces.
Pool B – New Zealand, Ireland, USA and Kazakhstan
It would be hard to look past New Zealand to top this pool. The Black Ferns are aiming to secure their fifth consecutive Women’s Rugby World Cup title. Head coach Brian Evans’ squad is one full of pace with sevens specialists featuring heavily in his selections.
For the USA, consistency is the key. All the players who made the trip to the UK, in which they defeated Wales and lost out to England, are featured in the squad. It is also an experienced group with nine of the girls having played in the tournament previously.
Ireland will be hoping to send off head coach Phillip Doyle on a high in his last tournament in charge. The squad contains just one player making their debut, Sharon Lynch, and also contains a wealth of experience including the recall of World Cup veteran scrum-half Tania Rosser.
One to Watch: Vanesha McGee (USA) – Despite facing the prospect of the might of the Black Ferns, Winger McGee is not one to be ignored having scored all of her side’s tries on their recent UK tour.
Pool C – Australia, France, South Africa, Wales
There have been some late changes to the Springbok squad ahead of their opening World Cup fixture against Australia. Lock Nomathamsanqa Falenii (knee) and centres Marithy Pienaar (knee) and Ziyanda Tywaleni (hamstring) have all been ruled out. Despite being dealt this blow their coach Lawrence Sephaka has been able to call upon Andrea Mentoor, Zandile Nojoko and Sinazo Nobele, with Mentoor and Nojoko bringing previous tournament experience.
Their opposition on 1st August, Australia, will field a side boasting three regulars on the Women’s Sevens circuit. Sharni Williams, captain in the shortened form of the game, along with Shannon Parry and Cobie Jane Morgan have all received the nod. It is a relatively untested side at this level with 12 of the Wallaroos going to their first World Cup. In contrast, fly-half Tui Ormsby will represent her country on the biggest stage for the fourth time, becoming the first Australian woman to do so.
Wales have recalled Adi Taviner following two years out of the side’s set up. The centre regains her place in the squad on the back of a memorable and standout season for Neath in the Super Cup. Like their pool rivals Australia, they also boast pace with Sevens star Rafique Taylor also retuning.
One to watch: Sandrine Agricole (France) – A player with bags of experience. The fly-half is in sublime club form for Rennes as well as helping her country in their 18-6 defeat of England back in February. With Agricole set to retire after the tournament she will be hoping that her and her teammates can go out on a high.
By Louise Warr (@Louise_Warr)