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Australia have been drawn in the same pool with hosts and trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand at next year’s women’s Rugby World Cup.
At a ceremony in Auckland on Friday, the fifth-ranked Australian Wallaroos were not only handed five-time champions and holders New Zealand but also ninth-ranked Wales and the team that wins the final qualifying tournament.
“It is interesting how the pools have come out,” New Zealand captain Eloise Blackwell said. “We have an Australasian pool, North American and European.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking watching those balls come out. In my time, I’ve never been in a pool with Australia but each time we come up against each other it’s a massive battle and no doubt next year is not going to be any different.
“But we’re not going to be defending the title – we’re out there to win it.”
Top-ranked England, the two-times winners, and France, ranked fourth, have been drawn together in Pool C alongside Fiji and South Africa.
Third-ranked Canada and inaugural champions, the United States, will be in Pool B for the 12-team tournament which will be held in the southern hemisphere for the first time.
Ninth-ranked Wales and the team that wins the final qualifying tournament will join the Black Ferns and Wallaroos in Pool A.
The North American sides will be joined by qualifiers from Asia and Europe in Pool B for the September 18 to October 16, 2021 tournament.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who attended the draw, said the tournament would take on added significance for rugby and women’s sport.
“Pre-COVID-19, this tournament was going to be important to New Zealand,” Ardern said. “Now it takes on an extra special dimension for the whole world.
“This is huge for us. I would like to think that we are trying to show leadership around women in sport.
“We need to demonstrate that people want to come out and support our Black Ferns because they are exceptional athletes. Not women athletes – athletes.”
The seedings were based on rankings from January 1, 2020 as restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus meant none of the southern hemisphere teams were able to play this year.
Matches will be held in Auckland and Whangarei, with the final at Eden Park, which hosted the 1987 and 2011 men’s World Cup finals.