9 Aug 2017

What you need to know ahead of the Women's Rugby World Cup

12:21 pm on 9 August 2017

The eighth Women's Rugby World Cup is about to kick off with England looking to defend the title they won in 2014.

The tournament - which begins just after midnight New Zealand time in Ireland - runs on a four-year cycle, but has been brought forward a year to avoid clashing with the Sevens World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2018.

The pool stages in Dublin are already sold out, debutants Hong Kong provide a compelling underdog story, and England and New Zealand are packed with talent - so what else do you need to know about the 2017 tournament?

Team captain's pose with the World Cup trophy ahead of the women's Rugby World Cup.

Team captains pose with the trophy ahead of the WRWC 2017. Photo: Photosport

As reigning world champions and the number one side in the world rankings, everyone wants to knock England off their perch.

But the Red Roses are in confident mood heading into the tournament, having beaten perennial rivals New Zealand away from home in June, and will be the only team in Ireland who have trained full-time since January.

Portia Woodman on the burst

New Zealand's Portia Woodman in action for the Black Ferns. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand's Portia Woodman is back.

The 26-year-old flyer has petrified players on the sevens field for years, with her stunning side-step and raw speed seeing her score numerous tries, and the Olympic silver medallist and former World Sevens Player of the Year has now switched her focus back to XVs.

The daughter and niece of former All Blacks, her rugby pedigree runs deep and, whether on the wing or in the centres, she will be one of the most potent threats over the next two and a half weeks.

There are two tough pools in this world cup and Wales, ranked 10th in the world, have arguably found themselves in the toughest.

Pool A sees them line up alongside four-time champions New Zealand and 2014 runners-up Canada, the sides ranked number two and three in the world.

The fourth team are debutants Hong Kong, who are ranked 23rd, and although Wales will hope to beat them, can they upset the other two sides?

And can Olympic sevens champions Australia deliver in XVs?

Australia won gold in the abbreviated form of the game in Rio but they look unlikely to triumph in Ireland.

The Wallaroos won the first-ever Olympic sevens gold medal in Rio but the XVs have never been their strong point, and with their focus on the shorter form of the game, they have only played a handful of tests in XVs since the last world cup.

It's a first for Hong Kong - no team of either sex has ever qualified for a world cup previously - but, given they've drawn Pool A, they're unlikely to be all smiles.

Italy, meanwhile, are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2002. Now ranked ninth in the world, it is also the first time they have qualified by right, as previously they were invited to take part.

Hosts Ireland are also considered contenders.

In 2014, Ireland's women became the first Irish side to make a rugby world cup semi-final and they are aiming to make at least the last four once again.

Hopes are that the home advantage in 2017 will propel them even further, but they will need a change in fortune after losing their captain, Niamh Briggs, to injury less than a fortnight before the start of the tournament.

With the pool stages sold out, fans are trying to get hold of tickets by any means. A party atmosphere is being predicted, and those lucky enough to have tickets will be able to enjoy a fan zone as well as the rugby.

- BBC / RNZ

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