This week, World Rugby announced the Women’s Rugby World Cup will be expanded from 12 to 16 teams. Which begs the question: which teams would likely qualify for 2025?
Of the 12 teams competing in New Zealand in 2021, 7 qualified courtesy of their placement in the last World Cup. Fiji and South Africa came through the regional qualifiers. An Asian and another European team will be joining them as soon as their qualifiers can be completed. The last will come from a repechage tournament, which can only be played once the regional qualifiers are done.
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It makes for interesting reading to look at who might still be in the running for that.
In Asia, Hong Kong, Japan and Kazakhstan are all in the running, as they have not played their championship yet.
The Rugby Europe Championship has yet to be played as well. Russia leads it now, courtesy of a close win over the Netherlands. Both those teams have yet to play Spain. The winner of that championship will play Scotland, Italy and Ireland in a qualifying tournament. Realistically, any of those teams can win the direct spot and any can make the repechage.
The teams already qualified for the repechage are Samoa and Kenya.
An expanded tournament
Looking at the world rankings, developments and results in women’s rugby, there are a number of countries that can make the cut in an expanded tournament as well.
One of the biggest growers is Columbia, who lost out to Kenya for the repechage this time around. An expanded would likely see a team from South America qualify directly, and they would be top of the roost there. Brazil would be closely behind them.
At the moment Rugby Americas North has no direct qualifying spot either, but both the USA and Canada are top teams in the world. They both qualified directly through their previous results. A spot for them would likely see a Caribbean team like Trinidad and Tobago rise higher in the qualification process.
However, it is Asia and Europe where things will get interesting.
Hong Kong at the moment is a developing team and has gotten some pretty good results against teams in Europe and Asia. The top ranked Asian team is Japan, though.
At the same time, Kazakhstan is on the rise as well. Kazakhstan can be a truly formidable opponent when they can get a stable team together, but this is by no means a given there.
China is also a force to be reckoned with. They failed to beat Kazakhstan to get to the Asian Championship, but things can change rapidly for China when the government and union decide to put an effort in.
Many contenders from Europe
In Europe things get even more complicated. It would not be a surprise if an extra direct qualifying spot would be added for them alone as well. The amount of teams in the running there is bigger than anywhere else.
A huge factor there is the development taking place in England and France now. The increasing professionalism there is drawing players from far and wide. The direct beneficiaries of the development in England, besides England, are of course Wales, Scotland and Ireland. But there has been an influx of players from Spain and the Netherlands as well.
A lot of players from those countries are heading for France to develop as well. To top this off, the Spanish competition is one of the best amateur and semi-pro leagues already. The competition in the Netherlands is growing and reaching a higher level as well.
Russia currently outranks the Netherlands, but they have historically struggled with consistency. And because of this, they have always been chased by another team not yet mentioned: Belgium.
At the moment, Belgium, Sweden, Finland and Germany would make up the Rugby Europe Trophy, if that gets played. Of those, Belgium and Sweden are up and coming. There are a number of players from Sweden who have made their way to the Premiership, but the Belgian competition in itself is of a pretty good standard and more competitive than the Swedish.
Yet all of those teams, apart from Spain, are still a way behind Italy, Ireland and Scotland. With the developments taking place in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Russia, they would not be far away come 2023 though.
Who would qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup?
In the expanded tournament then, we should count on Columbia qualifying, if World Rugby allows a direct spot for South America.
As for the others, it will depend on how World Rugby will organise the qualification.
But countries that would definitely be in with a shot would be the remaining Six Nations teams, Italy, Ireland and Scotland, and the Rugby Europe Championship teams, Spain, the Netherlands and Russia. It is safe to assume that World Rugby will find a way to accommodate a Europe 2 qualifier. The development of competitions and teams in Europe is too much to not allow another team in.
The countries in the current repechage are Samoa and Kenya, they will be joined by the runner up from the European qualifier and the runner up from the Asian Championship. This last one could be either Hong Kong or Japan, but Kazakhstan could definitely be in with a shot too. It is safe to assume the European and Asian teams will come out on top. They have more resources and easier access to higher class competition.
What is certain is that there will be more high class women’s rugby after the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021. With more teams having a shot, more unions will put resources into the women’s game. There will also be more test matches. It will only get stronger and better.
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