Rugby World Cup: The story so far

World Rugby takes a stroll down memory lane to look back at the eight previous women’s editions of Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand will become the first southern hemisphere nation to host the women’s edition of Rugby World Cup in 2021, in what promises to be the biggest and best event yet.

Defending champions the Black Ferns, meanwhile, would become the first team to lift the trophy on home soil should they emerge victorious. The inaugural event in Wales in April 1991 was won by USA, before England won in Scotland three years later. New Zealand have won five of the last six tournaments, with England breaking that run in 2014.

From its humble beginnings to a 2017 edition which was televised around the globe and attracted a record final attendance of 17,115, Rugby World Cup is expected to reach even greater heights in 2021 and be the most competitive tournament to date.


Host nation: Wales

Dates: 6-14 April

Pool 1 – New Zealand, Canada, Wales

Pool 2 – France, Sweden, Japan

Pool 3 – USA, Netherlands, USSR

Pool 4 – England, Spain, Italy


New Zealand 0-7 USA

England 13-0 France


USA 19-6 England 

Winning coaches: Kevin O’Brien and Chris Leach

Twelve teams took part in the inaugural tournament in hosts Wales, Canada, England, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, USA and the USSR with the teams split into four pools of three.

England, France, New Zealand and USA progressed to the semi-finals, but it was there that the challenges of Les Bleues and the Black Ferns ended. England led 6-3 at the break in the final at Cardiff Arms Park after Gill Burns converted a penalty try, but nothing could stop USA from claiming the country’s first – and last – major trophy since the men’s team won Olympic gold in 1924, as they reeled off 19 points without reply. 


Host nation: Scotland

Dates: 11-24 April

Pool A – USA, Sweden, Japan

Pool B – England, Scotland, Russia

Pool C – France, Ireland, Scottish Students

Pool D – Canada, Wales, Kazakhstan


USA 56-15 Wales

England 18-6 France


England 38-23 USA

Winning coach: Steve Dowling

To avoid clashing with the men’s Rugby World Cup as the inaugural tournament had done in 1991, the second edition of the women’s event came just three years later in Edinburgh with Kazakhstan, Ireland and hosts Scotland making their WRWC debuts.

Amsterdam had been due to host, but when the Dutch pulled out Scotland stepped in with three months to go and even fielded a Scottish Students side to compensate for Spain’s withdrawal and keep the 12-team line-up.

It was evident from early on that the 1991 finalists were again the teams to beat as USA and England duly cruised to another title decider. This time, however, England exacted revenge in a hugely entertaining contest, winning 38-23.


Host nation: Netherlands

Dates: 1-16 May

Pool A – England, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden

Pool B – USA, Spain, Wales, Russia

Pool C – New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Germany

Pool D – France, Australia, Kazakhstan, Ireland


USA 46-6 Canada

England 11-44 New Zealand 44


New Zealand 44-12 USA

Winning coach: Darryl Suasua

Four years after originally intended, Amsterdam did host a 16-team tournament which saw first appearances for Germany and Australia and the returns of New Zealand and Spain after missing the 1994 event. 

New Zealand, led by their inspirational hooker Farah Palmer, quickly emerged as the biggest threat to previous winners USA and England as the trio were joined in the last four by Canada. 

Defending champions England had been ruthless in the pool stages, as had the Black Ferns with a record 134-6 defeat of Germany, to produce the semi-final everyone wanted to see. It was a one-sided affair, though, with the 44-11 win a sign of the domination New Zealand were beginning.

USA swept aside Canada equally impressively in the other semi-final but had no answer in the title decider, Vanessa Cootes scoring four of New Zealand’s eight tries in a 44-12 victory to ensure a third champion in as many tournaments.


Host nation: Spain

Dates:  12-26 May

Pool A – New Zealand, Australia, Wales, Germany

Pool B – France, USA, Kazakhstan, Netherlands

Pool C – England, Spain, Italy, Japan

Pool D – Canada, Scotland, Samoa, Ireland


New Zealand 30-0 France

Canada 10-53 England


England 9-19 New Zealand 

Winning coach: Darryl Suasua

Spain were the next hosts of a tournament that would set new standards of excellence in terms of skill and fitness. Samoa enjoyed a dream debut with a 22-0 win over Ireland, but England and New Zealand appeared destined for the final.

The Olympic Stadium in Barcelona provided a fitting backdrop for a final screened live in the middle of the night in New Zealand. The 8,000 crowd in the stands were treated to a blend of tactical awareness, gritty forward play and attacking rugby as the Black Ferns successfully defended their crown with a 19-9 victory.


Host nation: Canada

Dates:  31 August – 17 September

Pool A – New Zealand, Spain, Kazakhstan

Pool B – England, Australia, Ireland

Pool C – France, USA, South Africa

Pool D – Canada, Scotland, Samoa


New Zealand 40-10 France

Canada 6-10 England


England 17-25 New Zealand

Winning coach: Jed Rowlands

RWC 2006 broke new ground as the first tournament held outside of Europe, South Africa making their debut in Canada as the bar was raised once more by the 12 teams. It was the usual suspects in the semi-finals with France and Canada unable to prevent another New Zealand-England final.

New Zealand’s backs had taken women’s rugby onto a new level with the triumvirate of Amiria Marsh, Stephanie Mortimer and Claire Richardson in particular impressive throughout. The final was another close affair, only settled when Marsh scored in the dying minutes for a 25-17 win to give Black Ferns captain Palmer the perfect send-off.


Host nation: England

Dates:  20 August – 5 September

Pool A – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Wales

Pool B – England, Ireland, USA, Kazakhstan

Pool C – France, Canada, Scotland, Sweden


New Zealand 45-7 France

England 15-0 Australia


New Zealand 13-10 England

Winning coach: Brian Evans

England welcomed the world in 2010 and invested heavily in preparations, hoping to avoid a third successive final loss to New Zealand. There were some upsets along the way with Ireland beating USA and South Africa edging Wales, while Australia made the semi-finals for the first time.

The final, played before a packed Twickenham Stoop, was a nail-biting affair and one that went right down to the wire. New Zealand had three yellow cards, but with one converted try apiece it was Kelly Brazier’s penalty that proved the difference and secured a fourth successive crown.


Host: France

Dates:  27 July – 19 August

Pool A – England, Canada, Spain, Samoa

Pool B – Ireland, New Zealand, USA, Kazakhstan

Pool C – France, Australia, Wales, South Africa


Ireland 7-40 England

France 16-18 Canada


England 21-9 Canada

Winning coach: Gary Street

The penultimate women’s edition of Rugby World Cup was played in the French capital and saw one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history as Ireland ended New Zealand’s 20-match unbeaten run in the tournament with a 17-14 victory, one which meant the Black Ferns missed out on the semi-finals for the first time.

Ireland joined hosts France, England and Canada in the semi-finals with a first-time finalist guaranteed. Canada became only the fourth side to reach the final after a wonder try from Magali Harvey against hosts France, but it was England who were crowned champions, 20 years on from their last triumph after a 21-9 win.


Host nation: Ireland

Dates: 9-26 August

Pool A – New Zealand, Canada, Wales, Hong Kong

Pool B – England, USA, Spain, Italy

Pool C – France, Ireland, Australia, Japan


England 20-3 France

New Zealand 45-12 USA


England 32-41 New Zealand 

Winning coach: Glenn Moore

Ireland played host to the most recent edition of Rugby World Cup as Hong Kong became the 20th nation to grace the showpiece event and Japan returned for the first time in 15 years. Each side would end the pool stage in Dublin winless, however, as New Zealand, England, USA and France qualified for the semi-finals. The hosts, who had wowed fans three years earlier, were beaten 21-5 by Les Bleues in the Pool C decider and would finish the tournament eighth.

RWC 2017 headed north to Belfast for the knockout stages as the Kingspan Stadium hosted the semi-finals and final. England proved too strong for France, while New Zealand overpowered USA to set up a fourth RWC final between the sides. A record 17,115 fans watched on as a hat-trick from Player of the Match Toka Natua secured a fifth title for the Black Ferns.

Will they claim a sixth success on home soil in 2021?


Last updated: Jul 1, 2020 8:18:16 AM
World Rugby Women in Rugby Launch
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Between the Lines: Katie Sadleir
On the latest episode of the World Rugby podcast, World Rugby’s General Manager of Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir, talks to Sean Maloney about growing the game across the world.
Jo Yapp of England
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Jo Yapp planning for the long-term at Worcester Warriors Women
Jo Yapp talks to World Rugby about her promotion at Worcester, working with the Barbarians and her coaching philosophy.
Kazakhstan's Anastassiya Khamova
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Kazakhstan women aiming for Rugby World Cup return
Once one of the leading women’s teams in international rugby, Kazakhstan are attempting to mount a revival in 15s rugby.
Portia Woodman - Sao Paulo Sevens
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Commentator Rikki Swannell picks seven women who helped change the face of rugby sevens
Sky Sports Rugby commentator Rikki Swannell picks seven players who embody the growth that women’s sevens has made since the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Series.
Elaine Vassie
Women's News Women in Rugby women-news-power Women-news-coach
Elaine Vassie putting down roots with the Dallas Jackals
Dallas Jackals assistant general manager and assistant coach Elaine Vassie talks to World Rugby about her new life in the USA, where she is helping the game to flourish.
HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens 2019
Feature News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Chiharu Nakamura takes on new challenge to grow women’s game in Japan
Japan sevens star Chiharu Nakamura has taken on the role of player/general manager for a brand-new club in Fukuoka, eager to create more opportunities for women’s rugby in the country and a career pathway when the time comes for players to hang up their boots.
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series logo for generic releases
Media release Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory Challenger Series
New Zealand awarded titles as HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 concluded
The remaining rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand All Blacks School Visit
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Melissa Ruscoe ready for next step on rugby journey
Melissa Ruscoe, who captained New Zealand in both rugby and football, talks to World Rugby about her career and coaching ambitions.
Chloe Hill-Huse
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions Women-news-coach
Chloe Hill-Huse on developing as both a player and official in Canadian rugby
Canada U18 hooker and certified referee Chloe Hill-Huse is keen to emulate compatriot Julianne Zussman’s success.
WRWC 2017: Final - England v New Zealand
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021
Rugby World Cup: The story so far
World Rugby takes a stroll down memory lane to look back at the eight previous women’s editions of Rugby World Cup.