IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset believes that next year's Women’s Rugby World Cup in France will inspire even more participation in the Game, which is now one of the world’s fastest-growing team sports.
The Frenchman made the statement after a compelling RBS Women's 6 Nations which saw Ireland crowned Grand Slam champions for the first time, placing female sport in front of TV audiences and the front pages of national newspapers in the country as well as delivering record crowds during the tournament.
The last day of the hard-fought RBS Women's 6 Nations 2013 campaign also saw Wales qualify for France next year, despite losing 20-16 to England on Sunday.
Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 in England proved to be a watershed for Women’s Rugby, which helped to take the sport to a mainstream audience for the first time, while attracting unprecedented media coverage and interest.
And with planning and preparation on track for France 2014, Bernard Lapasset believes that the event has the opportunity to showcase Women’s Fifteens to more people, in more nations, than ever before.
Lapasset said: “Women’s Rugby Fifteens continues to go from strength to strength. This year's RBS Women's 6 Nations demonstrated the considerable skill and talent in the Game, and with more and more women and girls taking up the Game as a first sport, or crossing over from another sport, we are set for a spectacular Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France.”
“The challenge for France 2014 is to raise the bar. Planning and preparation is on track and the FFR is determined to use their host nation status as an opportunity to grow participation in France and add to the record number of one million women and girls currently playing the Game worldwide.”
“The IRB is committed to the development of the Women’s Fifteens programme alongside Sevens as set out in the IRB Women's Rugby Plan. This was reaffirmed in the IRB Women's Fifteens Conference held late last year where Member Unions and the IRB reiterated their commitment to Women's Fifteens, and the Women’s Rugby World Cup as a pinnacle of the sport. We continue to invest in competitions and infrastructure and we are working with our Unions to ensure the best-possible development and performance platforms for Women’s Fifteens to prosper,” said Lapasset.
Qualification for the showcase event is already underway. Champions New Zealand, runners-up England, Australia, USA, Canada and hosts France have qualified directly as the top six sides from WRWC 2010, while Ireland and Wales have now confirmed their places through the RBS Women's 6 Nations.
Italy, who were beaten by Ireland to win the Slam, will join Scotland in having another chance to qualify for the showpiece event in the Women’s Game, via a six-team tournament in Madrid next month. Asia and Africa qualifiers will follow later this year.
“As we look to France 2014, the qualification process will ensure the very best teams from across the world will meet in the tournament, and we have created an opportunity for more teams than ever before to achieve their Rugby World Cup dream,” added Lapasset.