Four nations will take the next step on the road they hope will lead to New Zealand, when the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier kicks off in Parma on Monday.
Hosts Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Rugby Europe Women’s Championship 2020 winners, Spain will take part in the round-robin tournament which offers a direct route to RWC 2021.
Prior to the first match getting underway in northern Italy, we give you the full lowdown on the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier.
How many places at RWC 2021 are up for grabs?
The four teams are competing for just one direct ticket to New Zealand 2021. Whoever wins the Europe Qualifier will qualify as Europe 1 and take their place in Pool B alongside Canada, USA and the Asia 1 qualifier.
However, the RWC 2021 dream will not be over for the side that finishes second in Parma.
That team will enter the Final Qualification Tournament, alongside Colombia, Samoa and the runners-up in this year’s Asia Rugby Women’s Championship.
The winner of that tournament will complete the line-up in Pool A, which already features defending champions and hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales.
How will the final standings be determined?
Teams will receive four points for a win, two points for a draw and no points for a loss, with bonus points available for scoring four tries and/or losing by seven points or less. The team that tops the table after the three rounds of matches will book their ticket to RWC 2021 with the runner-up entering the Final Qualification Tournament.
In the event that two or more teams finish level on cumulative match points, a number of criteria will be used to separate the teams and determine the final positions. The first of these is the winner of the match between the two tied teams to be the higher ranked followed, if necessary, by the team with the best points difference and then the best try difference.
Have the teams taking part played at a Rugby World Cup before?
All four teams that have arrived in Parma for the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier have a rich Rugby World Cup pedigree.
Italy and Spain both competed in the inaugural women’s event in 1991, and the Spanish have missed only two editions since.
Ireland did not compete in the first women’s Rugby World Cup but have appeared at each of the subsequent seven tournaments.
Scotland, meanwhile, hosted the tournament in 1994, the first of their five appearances, but have not qualified since RWC 2010 in England.
When and where are matches taking place?
The round-robin Europe Qualifier will be played across three match-days with the four teams playing each other once.
All six matches will be played at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. The stadium first hosted Italy during the Women’s Six Nations 2017 and the Azzurre have played four tests there to date.
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi was also used as a host venue for the World Rugby U20 Championship 2015, when six matches were staged at the stadium.
Next week will not be the first time Rugby World Cup qualifying has been played on the site of the current stadium.
Italy’s men beat Romania on the road to RWC 2003 at Stade XXV Aprile, which was demolished to make way for Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in 2007.
What are the fixtures?
Match-day one (13 September)
15:00 – Scotland v Italy (all times are local, GMT+2)
18:00 – Spain v Ireland
Match-day two (19 September)
15:00 – Italy v Ireland
18:00 – Spain v Scotland
Match-day three (25 September)
15:00 – Italy v Spain
18:00 – Ireland v Scotland
Who are the players to look out for?
Some of the world’s best female players will be on display in Parma. None, though, have more experience than home scrum-half Sara Barattin, whose international career has spanned 16 years and could become the first Italian woman to reach 100 caps during the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier.
At the other end of her career, Ireland winger Beibhinn Parsons has made a huge impact on the Ireland team since making her debut in November 2018. Still only 19, Parsons has scored five tries in 11 appearances for her country.
Jade Konkel, meanwhile, is back in the Scotland squad having missed the Women’s Six Nations 2021 as she completed training to become a firefighter. The influential number eight’s last appearance for her country was a 13-13 draw against France last October.
Spain’s hopes could rest on their own prolific winger, Alba Vinuesa, who scored four tries against the Netherlands in February to help Las Leonas book their place in this Europe Qualfiier. Vinuesa only started playing rugby five years ago but has been described as being “on the verge of big things” by her national coach José Antonio Barrio.
Can I buy tickets for it?
Italy centre Beatrice Rigoni believes having fans back in the stadium will give the home side extra motivation to seal RWC 2021 qualification.
“This will give us an extra boost,” she told World Rugby. “Since we have not been able to go to the stadium for a long time, parents, family and friends will be in the front row to support us.”