A pitch and a prayer: vote looms on 2021 women’s World Cup

Of all the countries in all of the world, it had to come down to these. Australia and New Zealand will face off for the rights to host the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup in a Bledisloe Cup-style boardroom showdown in Dublin on Wednesday.

It will come down to a 15 minute pitch from both unions then a 42-member vote at the end of a long day of World Rugby Council meetings.

One on one: New Zealand and Australia will present to World Rugby Council before a vote to decide who will host the 2021 women's World Cup.

One on one: New Zealand and Australia will present to World Rugby Council before a vote to decide who will host the 2021 women's World Cup.Credit:AAP

At stake, from the Australian perspective, is an opportunity to harness a participation explosion in women's rugby and bring it to bear on a World Cup in three years' time, using the charms of the sports-mad Newcastle and Hunter region to stage the most professional women's tournament yet.

"It feels like a straight shoot-out," Rugby Australia's new head of women's rugby, Jilly Collins, joked. "I think theres quite a lot of feeling generally that two southern hemisphere nations have put strong bids in and its great for the game that it will be held down here for the first time regardless.


"Of course it would be wonderful to have it in Newcastle and the Hunter and wonderful for the development of the game over the next few years."

Super W has helped put the XVs game firmly back on the map in the rugby landscape.

Super W has helped put the XVs game firmly back on the map in the rugby landscape.Credit:Stuart Walmsley/

Collins is Rugby Australia's trump card, a no-nonsense former player who has worked across codes and countries in tournament management and administration. An Englishwoman who now calls Australia home, Collins was the first female citing commissioner in Europe and will join RA chief executive Raelene Castle and chairman Cameron Clyne for Australia's pitch.

She believes an Australian tournament and three years of build-up before it could transform the game at home and also abroad.

"From my perspective its about the legacy of what the tournament will provide and that means from the 15th of November if we secure the rights to it," Collins said.

"The important message is what it can do for the game in Australia, but also how important it is for us to support the development of rugby in the Asia Pacific region and also what we can do to help World Rugby deliver their womens development plan. We think it will be a transformative three years for the game globally."

New Zealand, as always, will be tough opposition, not least because of the symbolic power of Eden Park as the tournament's primary venue, and the country's blanket passion for the 15-player code.

Women's rugby is gathering momentum around the world, with World Rugby reporting a 60 per cent increase in female players since 2013, and a 150 per cent rise in registered female players in the same period. The numbers represent a quarter of all rugby players internationally being women and girls.

Both New Zealand and Australia are getting fair dinkum about the women's game, with RA launching the Super W competition and agreeing to entry-level pay parity for their professional men and women seven's players. New Zealand this year introduced semi-professional contracts for a national squad of 30 XVs players, and both are committed to making every on-shore Bledisloe Cup Test a double-header.

Down under, RA is reporting a 30 per cent increase in women XVs players, including pockets of 40 per cent growth in non-traditional markets like South Australia.

"What's most exciting is everything that can happen around a World Cup and what it can ignite," Collins said.

"At the moment in terms of opportunities for girls playing rugby it's mainly in sevens but we want to change that with structures and pathways in place so no matter what part of the game you start in, there is somewhere to go.

"What were seeing now, and a lot of it helped because of the higher profile of the Wallaroos recently, is more girls are asking to play XVs. Getting XVs World Cup will only help that."

Collins said Australia were confident their decision to stage the tournament in Newcastle and the Hunter was the right fit for the scale of a women's World Cup.

"We did a lot of work on where the best location might be," she said. "We absolutely wanted the tournament to be the centrepiece of the location it was in, for the players to be the stars of the show. With three venues close to each other that we are confident we can get great crowds to those stadiums and sell a lot of tickets, which is our priority."

Georgina Robinson is a Sports Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald

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