Women’s Rugby World Cup: can New Zealand defend their title?

Defending champions and hosts New Zealand enter the Women’s Rugby World Cup looking to claim their sixth world title.

Wayne Smith’s side are shaping up to be the most significant challenge to world number one ranked England on home soil. 

However, New Zealand have had a tumultuous two years marked by bad luck, coaching turnover, and an ugly 2021 European tour.

Kiwi sport was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of the country’s border closures, robbing the Black Ferns of prime development opportunities.

Returning to the European scene last year, they suffered their four biggest defeats ever, losing twice to both England and France by just over 29 points on average. 

A review launched following these performances prompted head coach Glenn Moore to resign in April after allegations of bullying and a toxic culture surfaced.

With former All-Blacks coach Smith taking the reins, New Zealand have shown significant improvement, winning this year’s Pacific Four series, completing the double against Australia in the O’Reilly Cup and dominating their warm-up game against Japan 95-12.

The Black Ferns will look to play animated rugby centred around veteran scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge who retires at the end of the tournament.

Kennedy Simon and Ruahei Demant share the responsibility as co-captains. 

The threat of the Black Ferns lies in their wingers, who are not only incredibly fast but are powerful ball carriers.

Portia Woodman is one of many sevens players in the squad and stunned in the warm-up match against Japan, racking up seven tries. 

Women’s rugby in New Zealand took a big step earlier this year when full-time professional contracts were implemented, improving from the part-time contracts offered in 2018. 

This landmark opportunity has given players a chance to fully realise their potential and compete with the ever-expanding list of nations doing the same.

While the Black Ferns have rallied since Smith’s appointment, the turnaround might be too demanding to derail the England steam train heading for World Cup silverware.

Nevertheless, New Zealand have sold out Eden Park for their World Cup opener and are expected to have an easy time in their pool given they hold a 100% win record against every team.

They begin tomorrow morning against neighbours Australia, before facing Wales and Scotland in the other two matches.

Their fixtures are as follows (BST):

Saturday 8 October v Australia (7.15am, Eden Park, Auckland, ITV 4)

Sunday 16 October v Wales  (3.15am, Waitakere Stadium, Auckland)

Saturday 22 October v Scotland (4.45am, Northlands Events Centre, Whangarei)

For all our Women’s Rugby World Cup content click here.

Featured image via World Rugby

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