The excitement was palpable as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Rugby World Cup winners Farah Palmer, Melodie Robinson and Dan Carter made the draw for Rugby World Cup 2021 at SkyCity Theatre in Auckland on 20 November.
Some mouth-watering matches now await fans when RWC 2021 kicks off on 18 September with hosts and defending champions New Zealand drawn with trans-Tasman rivals Australia in Pool A, North American rivals Canada and USA paired together in the pool stage for the first time in Pool B and European giants England and France grouped together in Pool C.
We bring you some of the best reaction from the nine confirmed teams who now know their opponents for the first women's Rugby World Cup held in the southern hemisphere.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: “The tournament will be held in Auckland and Whangarei and this official Rugby World Cup Draw will determine who will play the first matches at Auckland’s Eden Park, and Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre. The other world-class venue for the tournament is the Waitakere Stadium. I’m confident these games will be packed with fans young and old, many of whom I’m sure will be wearing widely available Black Ferns merchandise.
“After all this World Cup is an opportunity. An opportunity to grow the game here but also internationally an opportunity to showcase our elite athletes and provide inspiration for girls, and boys. An opportunity to break down gender discrimination in sport. And finally an opportunity to extend the manaakitanga that New Zealand is famous for. We are committed to a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021 and we can’t wait to welcome all 12 teams to Aotearoa New Zealand.”
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont: “The growth we’ve experienced in women’s rugby is proof of the ‘see it, be it, play it’ mantra, which is at the heart of our ambitiouss 2017-25 Women in Rugby plan to inspire participation and audience engagement across all age groups. New Zealand 2021, coupled with the enormous stage that the Olympics provides, will champion that mantra in a golden year for women in rugby and a year of celebration for our sport.
“New Zealand 2021 will not simply raise the bar in terms of event hosting, it will shine a bright light on the sport and its incredible players to make the statement that the rise of women in rugby is real, is powerful and is transformational.”
RWC 2011 and 2015 winning All Black Dan Carter: “There’s going to be a little bit of pressure, they’re defending champions as well. But if you ask any of those girls where they’d like to play the World Cup, they’d all say New Zealand. You’re playing in front of your friends and family, on pitches you know so well, like Eden Park. We had that experience in 2011 and it’s just such a special occasion.
“There is a lot of excitement around New Zealand hosting Rugby World Cup 2021.”
Rugby World Cup Board member and two-time Rugby World Cup winner Melodie Robinson: “I’m so excited and the reason for that is three-fold. First and foremost, we’ve had Rugby World Cups here before, but this is the first time we’ll see the female athletes drawn together at a Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, a rugby crazy nation, so there’s history in the making. The other is the pool games are in unique, boutique-type stadiums so you’re going to see a different type of experience with the fans and the festival feel around the rugby. Finally, this is the biggest ticket in town next year. We know that because sponsors are really getting on board with New Zealand Rugby. Why that is important is because if New Zealand Rugby and World Rugby can commercialise this, then we can start having the conversation that women’s sport is not a cost. Yes, it is an investment, but it is also bringing in revenue.”
New Zealand captain Eloise Blackwell: “Sitting there next to (RWC 2017-winning captain) Fiao'o Fa'amausili, a legend of the game, and it was pretty nerve-racking watching those balls being picked out. It’s interesting how the pools have come out; we’ve got an Australasian pool, a North American pool and a European pool. Across the pools, there is some quality teams. In my time, I’ve never been in a pool with Australia but every time we come up against each other, it’s a massive battle, and no doubt next year won’t be any different.”
“Every time you get to play at home is special and some of our girls are yet to experience that so it’s going to be an awesome moment for them. In terms of the World Cup, we are not defending it, we are coming out to win it. That’s the plan for us going forward.”
New Zealand scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge: “It means a lot. I’ve been to three World Cups now and having one at home is really exciting. Over here in New Zealand, rugby is in your DNA, you grow up with it and everyone is passionate about it here. To be here this morning, and to see the amount of people here already talking about it, and now the pool draw being done, it just makes it more real. For us having it here, we want to inspire the next generation coming through.”
Australia full-back Lori Cramer: “I love it. I heard a bit of a giggle in the crowd there when our ball got drawn (with New Zealand), so that’s good. I think whether it’s a friendly or a World Cup game between Australia and New Zealand it’s always a cracker so we’ll be looking forward to it. It doesn’t matter what sort of game, it’s always competitive between us, it doesn’t matter which sport either. But, I think in a World Cup it’s gonna be huge. I think by that point of the year we’ll just be excited to see any kind of fresh faces from any kind of other countries. So, we’re really excited.”
Wales Women's National Skills Coach Rachel Taylor: “Yeah, it’s been a bit of whirlwind last few days to say the least. But, just to be part of this, I have to say it’s a fantastic effort and display for the draw. It really adds some hype to it, and excitement, and to get some southern hemisphere teams in there is a real privilege for us because we don’t cross paths very often. So, a massive, massive amount of excitement coming from Wales for those games. It’s nothing too much of a surprise for us. We were lucky to get the hosts in France in 2014 and it was the opening game of the World Cup, and it was a fantastic memory and occasion to be part of. So we’ll hope for New Zealand first game. In an iconic rugby stadium would be a pretty epic moment for the Welsh team.”
Canada full-back Elissa Alarie: “We’ve been drawn into an exciting pool with our traditional North American rivals USA and we’re up for the challenge. The stage is set for a competitive Rugby World Cup and can't wait to play against the best teams in the world. We’re really looking forward to assembling whenever it’s safe to do so and continue our preparations for the Rugby World Cup.”
USA second-row Alycia Washington: “Oh, yeah, the sport is definitely growing within the States. A little bit of a halt right now due to COVID but people are planning, people are finding ways to stay fit, stay involved, become advocates for the game, definitely up their knowledge of the game because it doesn’t come as natural as American football to most Americans. But, people are really, really looking forward to getting back in the game and I know the team is so excited — the girls are in camp right now — with Pool B, we’re super pumped.
England coach Simon Middleton: “I thought the draw was fantastic and if that is a taste of things to come then you don't want to miss the World Cup. You get the experienced players who had a few nods and looks at each other and you get a feel from them about ‘this is fine, there is a good slant on the game at the weekend now’, and then the young players are bouncing off the walls as it’s a World Cup.”
England captain Sarah Hunter: “I just had this gut feeling we were going to be drawn against France, I don’t know what it was about it. They’re one of our rival teams who we have regular encounters with and they’re always hard fought and entertaining for the neutral. When we played them in the semi-final of the last World Cup it was probably one of the most physically demanding games that I’ve played in.
“If we want to win the World Cup we’re going to have to play the best teams along the way so if they’re in our pool that is what we focus on to get out of our pool.
“I thought there was a sense of what the competition was going to be and if that’s the draw how big is the tournament going to be? As a player, team and a country we want to go and play on the biggest stage and you got a feeling this could be the biggest World Cup there has been in the women’s game.”
South Africa coach Stanley Raubenheimer: “It’s a tough pool but we always knew it would be. You have to play against two of the top six teams and in our case, we have England and France. England were runners up in the last World Cup and France were bronze medallists, but that is the reality of playing on this stage, and hopefully we can give a good account of ourselves.
“Watching the draw gave us a sense of nervous excitement, but we can really focus on what we need to do now.”
South Africa captain Nolusindiso Booi: “I know every team will come as a challenge, and we will take every team as they come. Sometimes it’s nice to play with the bigger teams so that you can see where you are and give everything you have at that time.”
Fiji captain Sereima Leweniqila: “I was pretty excited to see the draw for our girls, but also happy we weren’t included in Pool A! But, yeah it’s exciting, going against powerhouses of women’s rugby. It’s all very new and I'm so excited. Our next camp is actually around next week, so we’ll be marching in and we’ll see how it goes towards the preparation towards the World Cup. So, it’s progressing but slow, but we’ll get there. We’ve been in the High Performance Academy and we had the privilege of going under former Flying Fijians coaches, they've been teaching us and upgrading our skills and getting us ready for the Rugby World Cup.”