The European Qualification Tournament for the 2021 Rugby World Cup gets underway on Monday with four nations vying for just one direct ticket to New Zealand.
Italy will host the round-robin tournament which also features fellow Women’s Six Nations sides Ireland and Scotland along with 2020 Rugby Europe Women’s Championship winners Spain.
All four teams will play against each other once over the next three weeks, with the overall winner qualifying for next year’s World Cup as Europe 1 – taking their place in Pool B alongside Canada, USA and the Asia 1 qualifier.
But all is not lost for the second-placed team, though, as they will enter the Final Qualification Tournament alongside Colombia, Samoa and the runners-up in this year’s Asia Rugby Women’s Championship.
The winner of that tournament will then complete the line-up in Pool A, which already features defending champions and hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales.
Originally scheduled for 2021, the Rugby World Cup was delayed for a year due to the pandemic.
All four teams contesting the European Qualification Tournament have a rich Rugby World Cup pedigree and here’s a look at who will face who in the opening round of action.
SCOTLAND V ITALY
The opening game of the day at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma will see Andrea Di Giandomenico’s Italy start their campaign with a fascinating clash against Scotland (kick-off 2pm).
The hosts will hope for a repeat of their 2021 Women’s Six Nations result after emerging 40-21 winners against Scotland in their Pool A meeting largely thanks to a Manuela Furlan hat-trick.
Five women are looking to make their international debuts for the Azzurre in Vittoria Vecchini, Francesca Granzotto, Stecca, Sara Seye, and Emma Stevanin while Alyssa D’Inca will hope to add to her one cap.
Giandomenico has found a nice mixture of youth and experience within his side, with scrum-half Sara Barattin in contention to pass the 100-cap mark during the tournament.
For Scotland, the 2021 Women’s Six Nations did not go to plan as they finished bottom of Pool A after failing to record a win in either of their two games.
Bryan Easson’s squad is little changed from the one that contested the 2021 Women’s Six Nations in April and captain Rachel Malcolm feels the squad are in a good place.
“We’ve had a huge amount of preparation going into this tournament. Obviously we’ve had games cancelled many, many times during the last 18 months,” she said.
“So we’ve been prepping for this for a long time which I think actually has ended up going in our favour. I feel like we’re in a really good place both in terms of our unit stuff and as a team.
“I think we’ll bring a real fast and dynamic way of playing, it’s always a way we’ve looked to play and with the understanding we have across the whole squad, we are playing at a tempo which should put teams under pressure.”
Scotland hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1994, the first of their five appearances, but will be looking to qualify for the first time since the 2010 edition in England.
SPAIN V IRELAND
Adam Griggs’ Ireland side will take on Spain in their tournament curtain-raiser.
Ciara Griffin will captain a squad featuring two uncapped players as Ireland look to build on a strong 2021 Women’s Six Nations campaign in which they finished in third.
Ireland Women’s Sevens captain Lucy Mulhall and Sam Monaghan, who has come through the IRFU’s IQ Rugby programme, have both been selected in the matchday squad for Round 1.
Griggs has made just one change in personnel to his starting XV from Ireland’s final game of the 2021 Championship in April, in which they triumphed 25-5 over Italy at Energia Park.
That change is Mulhall’s selection at outside centre, making her debut in midfield alongside Sene Naoupu, while Kathryn Dane and Stacey Flood continue their half-back partnership.
The exciting Ireland back three of Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eimear Considine and Beibhinn Parsons also start as Monaghan is named among the replacements.
Opponents Spain beat Russia and the Netherlands to win the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship last year and secure their qualification for this competition.
José Antonio Barrio’s side has been described as ‘unpredictable’ by Griggs.
Spain competed in the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991 and have only missed two editions of the competition since.
Their hopes could rest on Alba Vinuesa, who scored four tries against the Netherlands in February to help Spain book their place in this European Qualification Tournament.
The game kicks off at 5pm BST at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Monday 13th September.
WHERE TO WATCH
All six matches in the Rugby World Cup 2021 European Qualification Tournament will be live streamed across the Rugby World Cup website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels.
Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier Schedule:
All games to be played at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
Monday, 13th September:
Scotland v Italy (kick-off 2pm BST / 3pm local time)
Spain v Ireland (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time)
Sunday, 19th September:
Italy v Ireland (kick-off 2pm BST / 3pm local time)
Spain v Scotland (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time)
Saturday, 25th September:
Italy v Spain (kick-off 2pm BST / 3pm local time)
Ireland v Scotland (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time)