England take on Australia on Friday in their first-ever meeting of the WXV, a new tournament that promises to “revolutionise the women’s international rugby landscape”.
Organisers hope it will act as a “springboard” for the 2025 World Cup, which will be hosted in six venues across England, helping to ensure the expanded 16-team tournament is the most competitive yet.
The WXV consists of 18 teams divided into three individual competitions: WXV 1, WXV 2 and WXV 3. The top division, WXV 1, includes the top three Women’s Six Nations finishers and the top three from the cross-regional tournament which includes USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
England, who won their 19th and fifth consecutive Six Nations title in 2023, are in the top tier alongside Australia, Wales, Canada, New Zealand and France.
Scotland, whose tournament started on Friday, play alongside Italy, Japan, South Africa, Samoa and USA in the second-tier WXV 2, while Ireland are in the WXV 3 with Colombia, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Spain.
The six teams in each competition are further broken down into two three-team pools and only take on teams in the other pool – a “cross-pool format” – to determine rankings at the end of the tournament. Should teams finish level on points, there are a series of tie-breakers beginning with the result of any matches played between the tied teams.
For at least the inaugural season there will be no relegation from WXV 1, but the bottom WXV 2 side will drop to WXV 3, which will see its top side promoted.
Whoever finishes bottom in WXV 3 will face a play-off with the next-highest side in the World Rugby rankings, with the winner booking a place in WXV 3 the subsequent season.
How does this affect World Cup qualification?
While England are already assured of 2025 qualification as both tournament hosts and as 2021 World Cup semi-finalists, the 2024 edition of WXV will serve as a final chance for teams who have not managed to qualify by any other regional means, with a minimum of the top-five ranked sides at the end of that tournament also assuring themselves a place.
Because the Red Roses were 2021 World Cup runners-up, there should be six places up for grabs come the end of the 2024 WXV.
One innovation of the WXV is that each tier participates in a standalone tournament in a single location over the course of three weeks. The inaugural WXV will be hosted across New Zealand, with Cape Town welcoming the WXV 2 and Dubai the WXV 3.
There are some obvious advantages to this format. As women’s rugby aims to narrow the gap between its historically dominant nations – some of whom in recent years have turned fully-professional – and those who are still catching up, guaranteeing at least three Tests per year against competition performing at a similar level is a welcome prospect.
So, too, will be the decision to host each competition in a single location, allowing teams to maximise their long-distance travel rather than flying across the world to meet just a single opponent.
The “event”-like nature of the tournaments and rotating hosts should also allow organisers to capitalise on regional excitement and enthusiasm and, ideally, bring more women’s rugby fans into the fold.
ITV will air all three England and Wales matches on ITVX, with S4C also showing the Wales games.
Source : independent