WRWC2017: A Tournament in Review

Hi guys, sorry for the delay in getting this one out, I’ve been planning this since the start of the tournament but the last week has been pretty busy with work and my personal life! Hopefully the wait will have been worth it.


Last Saturday saw the end of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup. The first tournament since the 4-year cycle was brought forward by a year to line up with the Olympics and Sevens World Cup, this was a great advert for women’s rugby that finished with the top 2 teams in the world playing each other in a thrilling final. New Zealand ran out eventual winners – their fifth time as World Champions – to continue the record of England having never beat the kiwis in a senior Rugby World Cup in either the men’s or the women’s game. The final standings in the tournament were:

  1. New Zealand
  2. England
  3. France
  4. USA
  5. Canada
  6. Australia
  7. Wales
  8. Ireland
  9. Italy
  10. Spain
  11. Japan
  12. Hong Kong

Due to the coverage moving from Sky to ITV, I was able to see much more of the tournament this time around (though not as much as I’d have liked) and as such, these are my overall thoughts on the tournament:


As good a game as the men’s

Oddly in this day and age, the idea of women playing rugby still seems amusing to some people. Hopefully they watched a couple of matches while the World Cup was on and took note of how wrong they are.

Though the strength of some of the lesser teams in the tournament may have been lacking, the top teams were throwing themselves into tackles every bit as hard as the men would, with Australia’s opening match against Ireland full of big hits. During the tournament I heard the play described as being similar to Colts rugby. While this may initially sound like an insult, the reasoning behind it made sense to me, as the women’s game still relies heavily on talent and passing skills rather than a team’s ability to hit someone hard, kick for territory or land every penalty kick within 45 metres of the posts.

The important thing now is that the women’s game continues to push on. England were the only team all on professional contracts, yet even they are now reducing down to professional contracts for the 7s team only, which is what we currently see for many of the top teams like New Zealand and Australia. Imagine how much better these teams could be if they were able to focus on rugby as a profession, the game would just get better and better! England’s strength in depth was making them look almost unbeatable until the second half of the final. Australia won the gold medal for 7s at the Rio Olympics, just imagine the quality that they could bring to 15s if given the funding by the ARU. Hopefully by the next tournament, we will have at least a couple of fully professional teams.

Disappointing Irish

Everything that I have seen or heard suggests that the host nation got everything right in the way the tournament went, from the organisation to the behaviour of the local supporters. The only thing the hosts didn’t get right was the performance of their own team. Having made the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup courtesy of a group stage win over the Black Ferns and, more recently, facing the Red Roses in a Grand Slam showdown at the end of this years 6 Nations, the Irish only managed narrow wins over Australia and Japan before a loss to France denied them a place in the semis. In the knockouts, they lost to the Wallaroos and then Wales to finish outside the top 7, meaning they will not automatically qualify for the next World Cup.

The hosts could consider themselves unlucky, as they did lose captain Niamh Briggs to injury not long before the tournament and they were also in arguably the Group of Death as with both France and Australia in their pool, Pool C was the only team with 3 real possibilities for the semis. Regardless, much more was expected from the women in green and they will be understandably disappointed by the way things went.

The also-rans

I felt so sorry for Hong Kong in this tournament. This was the first time they had qualified for the World Cup and they end up in Pool A alongside possible semi-finalists New Zealand and Canada and an improving Wales team. I watched their match against New Zealand and if truth be told the one-sidedness was at times painful to watch. This is not a criticism of Hong Kong, but more a comment at the difference in quality across the tournament.

A look back through the results shows that Japan were the only team to manage competitive results whilst finishing bottom of their pool, yet even they did not manage a bonus point. Neutrals are more likely to watch competitive games, so I have 2 possible ways in which we could increase the number of competitive games as the tournament moves on:

  1. Change the pool format: One option would be to spread the 12 nations over 2 pools of 6 rather than 3 pools of 4. Not only will the lower-ranked teams have more competitive games, but so will the higher ranked teams, meaning that there will be more importance to strength of the entire squad as there will be more competition throughout the tournament. This format also leads itself nicely into the current format for the playoffs, where the top 4 teams go into the semi-finals, the rest of the top 8 go into another playoff and the bottom 4 go into a final playoff.
  2. Expand the tournament: Another option would be to expand the tournament to 16 teams, allowing 4 pools of 4. While there is such a gap in quality, this may make it easier for the top teams to cruise through the pools, it would allow the lower ranked teams more competitive matches. By doing this, World Rugby would then have option as to how they want to do the playoffs. The playoffs could have 4 tiers, with the pool winners competing in the semis, second place from each pool in the next tier and so on. Alternatively they could expand the playoffs to include a quarter-final stage, with the top 2 from each pool qualifying for this (they could increase the automatic qualifiers to be the 8 teams who make it into the quarters) while the other 8 teams go into a playoff of their own.

I think of the 2 options, the first would be better in current circumstances due to the money available to women’s rugby, however I would love to see the tournament expand to include more teams. Scotland, Fiji, Samoa and Brazil come straight to mind as other possible competitors, and I’m sure there are other nations out there who feel they would be able to compete at this level.

Give us more!

While I was happy that the tournament was being shown on free-to-air TV, I was disappointed that we did not see more of the matches on live TV. With all games within a round being played on the same day, I can understand why not all the games were shown, however I was surprised that on Saturdays we often only had England’s match being broadcast, I would have thought we could at least get coverage of all the home nations’ games!

Yes these games may have been available online, but that will not grow the fan base as much as having the games on live TV. Would people really have missed their re-runs of Storage Wars that much for just a couple of weeks?

I was also very disappointed that there was no highlights show for the tournament. During the U20s World Championship in the summer, the only game shown live was the final, however there was a highlights show for each round of the tournament. With the quality of punditry ITV had – David Flatman is probably one of my favourite pundits and Maggie Alphonsi has transitioned well from pitch to studio – a highlights show would have been the perfect way to draw in new fans to the sport.

Eyes On: WRWC2017 Final – England v New Zealand

The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup was given the send-off it deserved with a titanic battle between England and New Zealand. This match, shown live in the primetime evening slot on ITV1 started in terrific fashion with a minute’s silence for the late Colin Meads between the anthems and the haka, a start that the game lived up to. After an early New Zealand try, the Red Roses took control of the first half, only for a late try to make the halftime score 17-10 in favour of the defending champions. However the Black Ferns upped the ante in the second half and ran out 32-41 winners, earning their 5th World Cup tournament victory.

This was a disappointing loss for the Red Roses, the only fully professional team in the tournament, but there was also plenty for the players to be proud of and a good sign of things to come:


New stars

Though there were a number of players representing England in their 4th World Cup, there were also a number of players making their debuts in this year’s tournament, with 2 notable names in the starting XV for the final.

With many England centres having spent time in 7s recently, Megan Jones took the chance given to her to grab a place in the World Cup squad. Impressive when used earlier in the tournament, it was great to see her trusted with a starting spot against the Black Ferns with Danielle Waterman missing through concussion. She may not have been as impressive as in some of the earlier games, but she held her own at outside centre, allowing Emily Scarratt to move to fullback, from where she caused the Black Ferns a number of issues in the first half.

Even more impressive though was prop Sarah Bern. The 20-year-old just seemed to get better as the tournament went on and was probably one of England’s best players in the opening 40. She followed up her try in the semi-final with a strong early run down the right wing and was causing the New Zealand scum so many issues, helping lead to a penalty try.

Both these players should continue to improve and be even better come the next tournament in 2021, I just worry that the RFU’s decision to cut the number of professional contracts to focus on 7s will negatively impact their progression, especially that of Bern who I highly doubt will be part of the 7s setup.

Questionable England

Back when Stuart Lancaster was in charge of the men’s national team, there were often comments made about the way he often appeared to pre-plan his substitutions rather than react to how the game is going. It felt like Simon Middleton had gone to the Stuart Lancaster School of Substitutions for the final. The entire front row was replaced soon after half time, despite having a clear advantage over their Kiwi counterparts. Even more surprising to me was the early replacement of Rachael Burford, as I have often felt that she is the linchpin of the defence. The French looked much more likely to score after Burford was removed in the semi-final, and it certainly felt like the Kiwis started to get the upper hand once the substitutions began.

They were also defending very narrow on a regular basis, with Scarratt and Kay Wilson having to defend against a number of cross-kicks to their wing. While one of these was off target and led to nothing, 2 of these resulted in New Zealand tries. I understand that a narrow defence is often preferred as it is easier to scramble defence outside rather than through the middle, but if you are going to invite such a skilful team to attack you in a certain way, you need to make sure that you can cope with it.

More than that, I don’t understand the tactics that England were trying to play after the break. It felt like almost every time the Red Roses got the ball, they were kicking possession back to New Zealand and inviting them to attack again. There was clearly some quality in the England attack, so I don’t understand why they didn’t trust themselves to keep the ball and go through the phases a bit more. In an interview after the game, Scarratt was quoted as saying “Rugby is really hard to play without the ball and we didn’t have the ball in the second half”. As good as the Black Ferns were in the second half, they were certainly given a helping hand by England.

Luck of the Irish

Let me start this section by making something very clear: New Zealand were the better team over 80 minutes and fully deserved the win. That said, there were a number of decisions that they could consider lucky to have gone their way.

Selica Winiata’s opening try came from a lucky bounce that benefited her. If that had bounced almost anywhere else or been taken on the full by Portia Woodman – who England kept quiet on the night – then it is unlikely this try would have been scored.

Their 1st try after half time should have been disallowed as fly half Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali presented the ball after being tackled on the line, before grabbing the ball again and offloading from the floor to try scorer Toka Natua when still on the floor. This is a clear penalty to England and would have given the Red Roses a chance to clear their lines and get possession back. Natua’s 3rd try was also questionable as to my eyes it seemed that the ball was knocked on when she initially presented the ball in the tackle and got back to her feet about 10m out. I was very surprised by how quickly the TMO awarded the try in that case as when I saw the initial replay I felt it was a knock on and I still feel that having watched the incident numerous times.

I also felt that hat-trick hero Natua was lucky not to receive a yellow early in the game for what was deemed to be a high tackle but also contained no arms and think that the Black Ferns should have received a team yellow for persistent offending much earlier than the 76thminute, considering how early in the game referee Joy Neville gave a warning to the captain.

As I said, I still feel that the Black Ferns deserved the win, but on the biggest stage it is important to get the big calls right. I think that on the whole the officials did a good job in the game, but these decisions could have easily changed the course of the match.



Keep an eye out for my views on the tournament as a whole, likely due up in the next few days as I’ve had a busy couple of days.