WXV 2024 – Halfway House

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Now we have the three locations revealed for the second edition of WXV: Canada for WXV1, South Africa for WXV2 and Dubai for WXV3. In other words, one new country, Canada, and a straight repeat of the other two. The three competitions are scheduled to take place through September and October.

But as usual, we are offered only the barest outline. It remains to be seen where in Canada the top-tier games will take place; just one location, or possibly more?

For WXV2 do we assume a repeat of the twin venues, Stellenbosch and Cape Town, or will the other end of the country get a look-in? For WXV3 Dubai means Dubai, that hotbed of international 15s rugby. So you can book your hotel with some assurance.

Roll up, roll up!

What sort of attendances should we have expected in the 2023 version? Whether we were optimistic or not, the fact is that they were distressingly small. Even Kiwi commentators admitted disappointment at their nation’s response to hosting the six strongest teams in the world.

It’s good to hear that Canada has got the nod for the top tier; the Maple Leafs’ performances in New Zealand alone justify the choice, but we still cannot be sure of larger gates. It will take a lot of publicity to attract spectators to travel vast distances to watch matches. Wherever Rugby Canada decides to hold the tournament – Vancouver? Edmonton? Toronto? Montreal? Halifax? – it will take a real commitment from Canadian enthusiasts to be present in one of those cities across a period of a few weeks.

The other rumoured favourites were France. We have yet to learn why they were discounted. They have the strongest support bar none around the world. If a centre like Toulouse had been selected, we could have been sure of a whole-hearted response. With WXV still in its teething stages; it needs all the support it can get.

Spain were also said to be willing to stage whichever tier their national team attained, but it has not come to pass.

Why the other two nations were picked for a second time is hard to understand. Perhaps it made life simpler for World Rugby: just roll out the same system as last year. But few can claim that either country fully deserves the honour. It did the players no favours to be performing in front of such tiny crowds. And it works against WR’s own professed ambition to spread the game around the world.

Above all, it means that no European country will have found favour till 2026 at the earliest. Next year sees the World Cup displacing it. Since Europe lies at the very heart of women’s rugby, this does seem a counter-intuitive decision.

The Stats have it

It’s heartening to read WR’s official stats on the health of the game: a 7% rise in the number of players, to approach two million; attendances rising in many places, though not as far and as fast as some would like.

More nations are playing more tests – not just thanks to WXV – and, even more ambitious, more are undertaking tours.

Changes, what changes?

You might suspect that WR’s dearest wish is to see new faces turning up for WXV mach-2, especially as there will be only one entirely new location. Those belonging to Six Nations sides may already have become familiar, but renewal is the name of the game.

In WXV1 the only likely switch would be for the sixth place. Last year Wales scraped in by the skin of their teeth. They may again, but first they have to ensure that third place in the 6N, by no means a given. Almost impossible to forecast the order in which the three Celtic nations will finish. And then there’s Italy to consider.

For the Pacific Four teams, no change is likely. Sadly the American Eagles still fail to advance as you might hope and expect. The Wallaroos are advancing at pace; they look odds on to join the Maple Leafs and the Black Ferns in the three places available to them in the top tier.

Not all the top five (England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France) have produced unblemished records over the last year or so, but it’s hard to imagine any of them failing to retain their places.

Down at levels 2 and 3 the situation is far more flexible. The so-called ‘emerging nations’ received a shot in the arm when news of the new tournament broke in 2021. Now that they have had more time to advance their planning and structures, we should see who has made best use of it.

In WXV2 the six nations, Scotland, Italy, Japan, South Africa, USA and Samoa, present such startling differences of size and commitment to the game, that it’s hard to make predictions. We do know that the two European nations are full of the joys of spring; that the Eagles under- performed drastically in South Africa; that Samoa have the usual struggle to retain pole position against their Oceanic neighbours.

In WXV3 we are liable to mistake the competition for a romantic novel. How wonderful to see this extraordinary sextet competing together: Ireland, Fiji, Spain, Kenya, Kazakhstan and Colombia.

Here again we see nations with totally dissimilar rugby histories. Ireland, with their long hallowed traditions; Kazakhstan, who have been present at more RWCs than you might guess; then two representatives of huge continents, Colombia (lone Toucans from South America) and Kenya’s Lionesses (with only the Boks as African accompaniment); finally our last Pasifika nation, Fiji. At least Fijiana Drua have the advantage of a regular place in Australia’s Super W, where they do themselves proud.

But that assumes no change, a highly unlikely outcome. And that brings us to the tortuous business of qualification.

Who’ll win through to the final stages?

The qualification rules are complex with a capital K! If you want a run-down of the obscurities here, I refer you to John Birch’s masterly summary (www.scrumqueens.com/features/wxv-devil- detail). If he doesn’t understand all the inner workings, who does? A glance towards WR’s headquarters in Dublin? They have attempted to sort out some of the persistent doubts.

Tournament Dates:

Start: 27 September
Finish: 13 October

As before, three rounds will take place across three days each; the middle round set for 4-6 October. Bonus prizes this time include the chance of qualifying for the 2025 World Cup.