All competing teams have played warm-up games before the competitive action kicks off, and earlier this year, holders England beat Ireland 34-7 in March to win the Six Nations Grand Slam. Elsewhere, Ireland beat Japan in two practice games earlier this summer, and Australia have lost to England, Canada and New Zealand in a recent warm-up tournament.
Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Wales form Pool A, England, Italy, Spain and USA make up Pool B, whilst Pool C consists of Australia, France, Ireland and Japan. Pool stages will be played at Dublin’s University College, with Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium and Queen’s University Sport hosting the semi-finals and final. The three pool winners and the best-runner up advance to the semi-finals. Hosts Ireland, led by Louise Galvin after original captain Niamh Briggs was ruled out through injury, are priced 33/1 to win on home soil and they’re certainly a dark horse to take the title.
The opening match of the tournament sees England face Spain in Dublin, and the current world champions are understandably one of the pre-tournament favourites after beating New Zealand 29-21 in Rotorua in June. The Red Roses are 4/5. They’re the number-one ranked team in women’s world rugby, and have won the World Cup on two previous occasions. They lifted the trophy in 1994 after beating the USA 38-23 in Edinburgh, and then won the title again in 2014 with an impressive 21-9 triumph over Canada in Paris.
New Zealand, meanwhile, have lifted the Women’s World Cup aloft a record four times, winning it four times in a row in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. The Black Fearns boast an impressive squad, including star winger Portia Woodman, and are rightly tipped to be there or thereabouts come the business end of the championship. They’re 6/4 to win a record fifth World Cup.
If you’re looking for an outside bet, Japan have a youthful squad travelling to Ireland, with six teenagers named in their 28-woman squad, coached by Goshi Arimizu. The youngest member of their party is 17-year-old scrum-half Moe Tsuksi, and the Japanese outfit are currently ranked 14th in the world rankings. Led by Seina Saito, they’re the defending Asian Women’s champions, and are huge 500/1 outsiders to win their first ever World Cup. Number 8 Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave is one player to look out for, with her effective and powerful ball carries both in open play and from the base of the scrum.
However, it’s hard to look past England and New Zealand. On paper, they have the best personnel and possess the history and pedigree in the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Both these teams will be looking to reach the final as a minimum requirement, and the Black Fearns could just shade it to lift a record fifth title.
Sports.net’s Top Tip