Fans in New Zealand got a small taste of what they can expect at Rugby World Cup 2021 when the World Rugby Pacific Four Series took place earlier this month.
The Black Ferns took the title, having emerged unbeaten from matches against Australia, Canada and the USA.
With less than four months to go until RWC 2021 kicks off at Eden Park, we have taken a look at the challenges each of those teams will face in the pool stage this October.
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Back in November 2020, the Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw threw up some mouth-watering pool-stage matches, none more so than the one that will headline the opening day at Eden Park.
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Australia will meet hosts New Zealand at the end of day one and if the match is anywhere near as exciting as the team’s recent World Rugby Pacific Four Series meeting, then fans are in for a treat.
The Wallaroos opened up a 10-0 lead in Tauranga earlier this month as Lori Cramer added a penalty and conversion to Liz Patu’s early try.
It was not to be for the visitors as the Black Ferns replied with tries from Ayesha Leti-I’iga (two), Alana Bremner and Kaipo Olsen-Baker to take a 23-10 win.
However, their first-half performance should give Australia belief ahead of their two O’Reilly Cup matches in August and the RWC 2021 meeting.
Whoever wins that opening match in Auckland will head into the subsequent fixtures against Scotland and Wales confident of sealing their progress to the quarter-finals.
Next up for Australia is Scotland in Whangārei a week later, on 15 October. The teams have met only twice before, at RWC 1998 and RWC 2002, with the Wallaroos winning on both occasions.
Wales make their RWC 2021 entrance the following day against the hosts. The teams have met four times before, all at Rugby World Cups.
The first of those matches came at the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup in Wales when New Zealand sealed a 24-6 defeat of the hosts in Llanharan. They have subsequently won each of the three encounters, the most recent a 44-12 victory at RWC 2017 that featured a Selica Winiata hat-trick.
All four Pool A teams will be in action on the penultimate day of pool-stage action, as Australia take on Wales before New Zealand face Scotland with vital points on the line in the race for a place in the last eight.
The Wallaroos are unbeaten in four matches against Wales, while the Black Ferns have won each of their three meetings with Scotland.
North American rivals Canada and the USA were also drawn together back in 2020 and the Women’s Eagles will hope to improve on their recent record against their neighbours when they meet in Auckland on 23 October.
The RWC 2017 semi-finalists were beaten 36-5 by Canada at the Pacific Four Series earlier this month and have not tasted victory in the fixture since 2019. The USA have only won two of the 14 fixtures contested by the sides since RWC 2010.
By the time they take to the pitch at Waitakere Stadium in October both teams will know what they need to do to reach the quarter-finals.
Pool B gets under way on 9 October, when the USA take on Italy and Japan face Canada in Whangārei.
The Women’s Eagles have won both of their previous matches against Italy, the most recent a 24-12 win at RWC 2017. Canada have only played Japan once previously, winning 57-0 at RWC 1994.
Six days later, the USA will play their second match of the tournament, against Japan at the Northlands Events Centre. The teams have met once before, at RWC 1994, when the USA won 121-0 on their way to the final.
Canada take on Italy the following day in Auckland, a team they have not played since beating them 6-0 at the first women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991.