Fri 29 Jan 2021 | 09:00

South Africa's opponents for World Cup opener revealed

South Africa's opponents for World Cup opener revealed
Fri 29 Jan 2021 | 09:00
South Africa's opponents for World Cup opener revealed
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NEWS: A mouth-watering triple-header at Auckland’s Eden Park will open this year’s women’s Rugby World Cup in September, culminating in a clash between hosts New Zealand and arch-rivals Australia.

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Hoping to attract record crowds in the mostly virus-free nation, tournament organisers have scheduled three high-profile pool matches on September 18 at the Auckland venue, the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby.

South Africa face France first up, followed by England against debutants Fiji, then five-time champions New Zealand take on Australia.

The tournament, which runs until October 16, features 12 teams in three pools of four and is being hosted in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time.

Matches will be played in Auckland and Whangarei.

Other notable pool matches include France against England on September 28, in a replay of their 2017 semifinal won by France.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the tournament would continue to grow rugby for women, who now account for more than a quarter of the 9.6 million registered players around the globe.

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“There is a very real, unstoppable momentum building behind the rise of women in rugby now and 2021 will be a year like no other, providing a unique opportunity to continue to accelerate the growth and profile of the sport,” the former British and Irish Lions captain said.

“Women’s rugby rightly is set to own centre stage this year.”

Matches will have unrestricted crowds thanks to New Zealand’s success in containing coronavirus.

England coach Simon Middleton hoped the event would be a morale booster for sports fans around the globe affected by the pandemic.

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“We all know there’s an even bigger picture outside of rugby and sport at the moment but the World Cup is a huge opportunity for not only the worldwide rugby community, but everyone to come together and celebrate a great event at a time when the world is struggling,” he said.

Springbok Women’s coach Stanley Raubenheimer welcomed the announcement of the match dates and times and said it would provide more direction in their planning in the lead-up to the international spectacle.

“The match dates and times will enable us to be more focused in our planning because we now have clarity on what we have to do within the relevant timelines,” said Raubenheimer.

“That said it won’t necessarily change much, but it certainly helps to know that we will face France in our opening match, so we can plan accordingly.”

Raubenheimer didn’t attach much significance to the fact that they would kick off their campaign against two of the top four teams in the world: “It doesn’t make much of a difference to us because the fact of the matter is that they are in our pool and we would have to face them at some stage.

“We will forge ahead with our preparations in the next few months and ensure that we take each match in our stride.”

The Springbok Women stepped up their preparations for the tournament early in January with a training camp in Stellenbosch, which will run until the end of March.

The team, however, had an enforced break this week to mourn the loss of their strength and conditioning coach, Sandile Sibeko, who tragically passed away last Saturday, but they returned to the training field on Thursday.

AFP & SA Rugby

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South Africa's opponents for World Cup opener revealed | Rugby365