Friday marks one year to go until Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, kicks off at Auckland’s iconic Eden Park and anticipation is already reaching fever pitch among players and fans alike.

RWC 2021 will get underway on Saturday, 8 October, 2022, when South Africa and France run out onto the hallowed turf in front of what should be an expectant crowd.

England will then take on Fiji for the first time in a women’s test match, before hosts New Zealand kick-off their RWC 2021 campaign against Australia.

Wallaroos winger Mahalia Murphy scored a try the last time Australia took on the Black Ferns at Eden Park. Although her side lost that match 37-8, she cannot wait to return next year.

“They’re our biggest rivals. It’s going to be electrifying with the crowd and I’m sure we are going to get a lot of heat,” Murphy told World Rugby.

Murphy represented Australia at RWC 2017 in Ireland, scoring three tries, and she is looking forward to experiencing the buzz of playing at another Rugby World Cup.

“I know it was four years ago but I remember it literally like it was yesterday,” she added. 

“Losing to Ireland in the first game and then coming back and beating them in the [fifth-place semi-final] was probably my favourite part. I won’t forget that. 

“The whole experience was amazing and I can’t believe the World Cup is next year, it is so exciting and the countdown starts now.”

“A big year to prepare”

New Zealand had planned to host the world’s 12 best teams this year, as the women’s tournament celebrated its 30th anniversary, but COVID-19 restrictions meant that it was postponed for 12 months.

France captain Gaëlle Hermet is hoping to play at a first Rugby World Cup and admits that she is “impatient” for the countdown to RWC 2021 to be over.

“Any rugby player who is potentially going to be able to play in a Rugby World Cup is eager, even more so with the health situation that we've had recently,” Hermet said. 

“I think all we want is to be able to play, to be able to go back to full stadiums, to be able to experience events like this. 

“We still have a big year to prepare. We're thinking about it and little by little we're going to increase the pressure.”

Hermet’s Les Bleues team-mate Lise Arricastre has her sights set on a third Rugby World Cup, and says that “excitement is running high” on the streets of her hometown in the south of France.

“In my rugby community, a lot of people talk to me about it,” Arricastre, 30, said. “We are at the start of the championship, so we are preparing a lot and the November tests are coming very, very quickly. 

“I'm focused on this preparation; I think it's the experience too. I'm putting a lot more focus on my preparation for this Rugby World Cup. It's very clearly one of my last career goals.”

South Africa missed out on a place at RWC 2017 in Ireland, but booked their ticket to New Zealand by winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup 2019.

Their prize for qualification was a place in Pool C alongside France, England and Fiji, and centre Zintle Mpupha — who recently scored four tries in a 66-0 win over Kenya — cannot wait to run out at Eden Park.

“It is a great honour,” she said. “It is going to be a huge game and not an easy one. 

“As we all know, France are a physical team and have a very high level of skill but, as a team, we are willing to take that on the chin and show what we are capable of as well. 

“I have never played in a huge stadium like that before so it will be a great opportunity.”

Countdown starts now

Following the opening match, two-time Rugby World Cup winners England will enter the fray as they take on Fiji at Eden Park.

The Red Roses, who won the tournament in 1994 and 2014, have never faced the Fijians and according to captain Sarah Hunter the countdown to their first meeting will now intensify.

“Obviously, from Friday you're like, right, we're now into that territory where we can properly count down, where you've got a year [to go],” Hunter said.

“You can start to go, well, now this year's even more important about how we start really fine-tuning what we're about as individual players, but more importantly, as a team. It just makes it that bit more real.

“We can really start getting excited about the World Cup happening and especially the fact that it's in New Zealand, I think it just adds a bit more excitement about it.”

England have only played at Eden Park twice before, losing 33-8 to New Zealand in 2005 and again 29-10 eight years later.

Hunter captained England in the second of those defeats, and she is excited to return to the famous stadium and create some more positive memories.

“As players, you want to be playing in the big stadiums and the historic stadiums that have had historic test matches,” she said. 

“Eden Park is synonymous with New Zealand rugby, so to have the first game there just adds a bit of extra specialness about it.

“We've never played Fiji at 15s before, so that's a bit of an unknown and it is really exciting, and I'm sure it'll go pretty fast as well as we get into that one year to go.”

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