The defending champion Black Ferns have been drawn to play Wales, Australia and the winner of the final qualifying tournament in their pool at next year’s women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

The draw was made in Auckland yesterday morning.

Canada, the USA and the respective winners of the European and Asian tournaments are in pool B.

England, France, South Africa and Fiji are in pool C.

The 12-team tournament will be played in Auckland and Whangarei in September and October next year.

“It is interesting how the pools have come out,” New Zealand captain Eloise Blackwell said.

“We have an Australasian pool, North American and European. Every time we come up against Australia it is a massive battle.

“But we’re not going to be defending the title, we’re out there to win it.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who attended the draw, said the tournament would take on added significance for rugby and women’s sport.

“Pre-COVID-19 this tournament was going to be important to New Zealand,” Ardern said. “Now it takes on a extra special dimension for the whole world.

“This is huge for us. I would like to think that we are trying to show leadership around women in sport.

“We need to demonstrate that people want to come out and support our Black Ferns because they are exceptional athletes, not women athletes, athletes.”

The seedings were based on rankings from January 1st, 2020 as restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus meant none of the southern hemisphere teams were able to play this year.

Matches will be held in Auckland and Whangarei, with the final at Eden Park, which hosted the 1987 and 2011 men’s World Cup finals but the full match schedule is yet to be realeased.

World Rugby chair Bill Beaumont, who was unable to attend the draw because of ongoing travel restrictions as a consequence of the pandemic, believes that New Zealand 2021 will raise the bar on and off the field.

“New Zealand 2021 will not simply raise the bar in terms of event hosting, it will shine a bright light on the sport and its incredible players to make the statement that the rise of women in rugby is real, is powerful and is transformational,” said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.

SOURCE – RADIO NZ

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