SCOTLAND finally have some clarity regarding their route to qualification for the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand.
Bryan Easson’s side will play their long awaited ‘Europe Qualifier’ competition against Italy, Ireland and Spain next month in Parma’s Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Italy, home of the Zebre Rugby Club.
The team which finishes top of that tournament will book a spot in Group B at the World Cup alongside Canada, USA and the ‘Asia 1’ qualifier (either Hong Kong, Japan or Kazakhstan).
Meanwhile, the runner-up will compete against the second placed teams in the regional qualification tournaments for Asia and Oceania (already confirmed as Samoa), plus the winner of a play-off between the South America regional qualifier (confirmed as Columbia) and the second-placed team from the Africa regional qualifier (Kenya).
While the Covid pandemic has caused serious disruption to sporting schedules across the globe, the level of confusion in women’s international rugby has been particularly acute with this European qualifying tournament having been pushed back at least twice from its initially scheduled slot in September 2020, and the format of the competition also being unclear before yesterday’s confirmation. For example, it was reported back in May that Scotland’s 2022 Six Nations matches against Italy and Ireland would double-up as World Cup qualifiers.
Some details have still to be confirmed, but there is at least now a rough framework for Easson and his team to work towards. The three rounds of matches in the European qualifier will be played on Monday 13th, Sunday 19th and Saturday 25th September, with a full match schedule and further details in relation to the Final Qualification Tournament to be announced at a later stage.
The World Cup was initially scheduled to be played this Autumn but was postponed by a year in March due to the Covid pandemic, meaning it will now take place between 8th and 12th November 2022 in the cities of Auckland and Whangārei.
Nine teams have already booked their place at the main tournament, including New Zealand, England, France, Canada, USA, Australia and Wales, who qualified through their final ranking at RWC 2017 in Ireland, while South Africa and Fiji have qualified through their regional qualification tournaments.
Scotland have not qualified for a World Cup since finishing eighth at the 2010 tournament in England, and they will have to be at their best if they are to put that right this time round. They have lost their last four matches against Italy, including a 20-41 reverse at home during this year’s Six Nations; they have managed just one win (12-15 in Dublin in 2018) from their last 14 matches against Ireland; and while they did manage a 12-36 win over Spain in a friendly in Almería in January 2020, Scotland had lost the three previous encounters between the two sides.
There has been an increased focus on the women’s game in Scotland in recent years and it is generally agreed that the national team has become more competitive, and head coach Easson stressed that his team have the ability to make it to New Zealand.
“Despite the challenges of the past year, our goal of Rugby World Cup qualification has remained the same,” he said. “The squad continued to work hard after the end of the Six Nations tournament in April and following a two week break in July, they have stepped up the intensity and are looking forward to another preparation camp in Largs next week.
“With the tournament on the horizon, our focus now is to turn the hard work into solid performances on the pitch.”
Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director, Alison Hughes, said: “We are pleased to be able to share the details of the rescheduled Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe qualifier. The global disruption caused by COVID-19 has been frustrating for all unions still within the pathway, but we appreciate the patience and flexibility shown by our unions and their efforts to ensure the qualification process can be completed safely and fairly. Next year’s Rugby World Cup is shaping up to be a truly spectacular event and we can’t wait to see the world’s top women’s 15s players take the stage in New Zealand.”