Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 is just over a year away and eight teams are already confirmed for the showpiece event in the Women’s Game in defending champions New Zealand, England, Australia, hosts France, USA, Canada, Ireland and Wales.
Over the next eight days in Madrid six teams will battle it out to secure the two places available to France 2014 with competition between hosts Spain, Scotland, Italy, Samoa, Sweden and the Netherlands sure to be as intense as the Spanish sun.
The six teams have been split into two pools with Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands in Pool A and Scotland, Spain and Samoa in Pool B, but the format means the teams will play those in the opposite pool. They will then be ranked 1-6 with the top two sides qualifying.
The qualifying tournament gives Scotland and Italy a second chance to secure a place at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 after both missed out the first time through the 2012 and 2013 Women’s Six Nations Championship.
Scotland failed to win a match across these Championships, but Italy came agonisingly close to qualifying, a 16-15 loss to Wales proved the difference as the Welsh and Grand Slam winners Ireland booked their places in France.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is our goal for this season and securing that through the Six Nations would have been just perfect,” admitted Italy captain Silvia Gaudino, who was part of the last Italian side to play at a Women’s Rugby World Cup back in 2002.
“Unfortunately we lost to Wales and that’s where things got complicated. We still fought hard till the end and we are certain we gave our all in the tournament. The qualifying tournament is our second chance and we want to make the most of it and not let it go.”
Scotland coach Karen Findlay is equally determined that her side qualify.
“We’ve selected as strong a squad as we can. It’s exciting to have some new faces return who, through injury, were out during the Six Nations. They’ve come good at the right time and that adds depth to the backline choices,” said Findlay.
“All involved realise the implications of the three matches that lie ahead, are very much focused on doing all we can to secure World Cup qualification and we hope everyone gets behind the squad.”
Spain, like Italy, missed out on qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 after losses to Sweden and captain Ana María Aigneren is determined to ensure that doesn’t happen again in front of their own fans at the Estadio de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
“It is a dream come true for most of us if we can qualify,” Aigneren said. “I played in the 2006 World Cup as a young girl and I would love to end my career as a rugby player by playing in another. That would be great.
“For the girls who haven’t had that experience it is something that you just can’t compare. It is the ultimate in your career to play in a world championship. We are all very hopeful and we know we have to do our best to gain our goal and have our dream come true.”
Sweden are also hoping to again spring a surprise, while Samoa provide the unknown element, having not played a match since their loss to Australia in qualifying four years ago. However, with Samoan legend Peter Fatialofa at the helm they are not there to simply make up numbers.
IRB Women's Development Manager Susan Carty said: “I expect all six teams to go out and give 100 per cent from the first minute of the first game.”
“These girls know that a spot at France 2014 is at stake and that they’re actually so close to realising that dream. Teams like Italy were close to making it there via the Six Nations but results didn’t go their way. You can be sure they'll want to make amends here in Madrid."
“We’re also going to see teams like Sweden, the Netherlands and Samoa take the field. They may not be as well known as some of their opposition, but you can be sure they’ll bring intensity and real physicality to the field this week.”
The two qualifiers will be known after the final match day on April 27, leaving just two places remaining to be filled by an African and Asian qualifier. The International Rugby Board will also announce the dates and venues for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 during the qualifying tournament.
Fixture schedule (all kick-off times local)
Saturday, April 20:
Italy v Samoa (13:30)
Netherlands v Scotland (15:30)
Sweden v Spain (17:30)
Tuesday, April 23:
Italy v Scotland (13:30)
Sweden v Samoa (15:30)
Netherlands v Spain (17:30)
Saturday, April 27:
Sweden v Scotland (13:30)
Netherlands v Samoa (15:30)
Italy v Spain (17:30)
The nine matches of the Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 qualifier in Madrid will be streamed live via www.dailymotion.com/video/xz4j38_live-qualification-wrwc-madrid_sport#.UXEhBEpc1U0.
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