World Rugby have announced significant changes to the format of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, including the introduction of quarter-finals and the expansion of squad sizes in order to deliver a more competitive tournament. The duration of the tournament will also be extended taking player welfare into consideration.
During last summer’s World Cup, which was held in Ireland, the then USA head coach Pete Steinberg, in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport, accused the governing body of “discrimination”, calling for longer gaps between games in order for players to recuperate properly, as well as having a 30 player rather than 28 player-squad in line with the men’s tournament.
Up until now, the tournament has gone directly from pool stages to semi-finals, with the remaining eight teams playing for placement, but that will be abandoned from 2021 with eight quarter-finalists progressing and teams exiting the tournament as and when they are knocked out to create a more competitive tournament.
Steinberg, who coached the USA Eagle Women to the semi-finals, also called for an expansion of the tournament from 12 to 16 teams. Although World Rugby has not gone this far, it would seem that a number of Steinberg’s concerns have been addressed by the governing body.
Indeed, other unions share Steinberg’s desire for change as the announcement of the new-look format for 2021 came after a consultation process with all the participants of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Katie Sadleir, the World Rugby General Manager for Women’s Rugby, told Telegraph Sport: “In terms of the changes being made, they were directly in relation to (consultation) and a couple of themes came back from the feedback, one was about player welfare which has led to the extension of the time between the pool games and play-off games and having additional players in every squad.
“The concept of having quarter-finals was also something that came up. All the changes have been made because of the constructive feedback we got from the unions and stakeholders about how we could take the tournament to the next step.
“World Rugby also works very closely with the International Rugby Players Association, who look after professional players. They undertook a survey for us of the players who participated, so we get feedback from the team managers of all the teams that participated and the players.”
Although Steinberg stepped down as head coach of USA Women, he had been consulted by Sadleir.
The number of participating teams is not changing as World Rugby believe that further work needs to be done to create more nations that are competitive in XVs.
“One of our aims is to have tight winning margins at our pinnacle events to inspire the next generation of athletes,” Sadleir said. “Having looked at the winning margins between the bottom half and top half of the tournament, we and the unions recognise we need to do work in terms of high performance.”
World Rugby has also launched the host selection process for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup, with Australia having already said they will bid.
Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman, was also involved in facilitating the recent changes and wants to use the benchmark set in Ireland as a base to build on for the 2021 tournament.
He said: “The launch of the host selection process for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 is an exciting milestone and follows a fantastic 2017 for women’s rugby. The exceptional Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland was the best attended of all time, inspiring on and off the field, and underscored why the event is such an attractive hosting proposition for unions and nations.
“We want to keep building the momentum, which is why we are introducing these changes to the format for the 2021 process. By ensuring an even more competitive and exciting tournament in the future, women’s rugby can continue to play an instrumental role in driving forward the development of the game and significantly broadening rugby’s global fan base.”
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