Pool B stands out as it contains three teams with ambitions and the potential to reach at least the semi-finals, two of whom are previous World Cup winners. In addition, the pool includes the two oldest teams, four of the five tallest players, and the only team who have been unbeaten since the last World Cup!
Registered adult players: 3277
Registered players per 1000 women: 3.08
Scrumqueens test ranking: 6
World Cup Seeding: 7
Results - all time: P 126, W 46 , L 80
Results – since last World Cup: P 20, W 14, L 6
Average age of squad: 29.8
Ireland had not formed a women’s team when the first World Cup took place in 1991, but have played in all World Cups since then. They have never finished higher than 7th (in 1994 and 2010), and have finished as low as 14th (out of 16 in 2002) – so the very realistic target of a top four finish this year is yet another indicator as to how far Ireland have come.
This also becomes clear when looking at their record against their pool opponents. Ireland have never previously played against New Zealand, have only one win (in 2010) against Kazakhstan in four meetings, and only one win against the United States in five (also in 2010) – but will nonetheless start both games against the latter two teams as favourites this time.
Only Kazakhstan, France and England have had a better performance in test matches since 2010 – and Ireland’s record would be even better if they recognised games played outside of the Six Nations as test matches.
In 2010, Scrumqueens also revealed that Ireland have a unique place in women's rugby history as the home of Emily Valentine, the first recorded woman to have played rugby, who played for her school in Enniskillen in circa 1882.
Ireland are the oldest team at the tournament, with an average age of nearly 30 - and have the tallest player in Marie Louise Reilly (1.92 m, or just over 6'3").
Women and girls in Ireland are more likely to play rugby than in any other European country - six times more likely than women and girls in England, according to their figures.
Registered adult players: 370
Registered players per 1000 women: 0.17
Scrumqueens test ranking: 16
World Cup Seeding: 11
Results - all time: P 58, W 35, L 23
Results – since last World Cup: P 8, W 8
Average age of squad: 27.0
Although Kazakhstan did not exist as an independent country in 1991, they were represented in that World Cup as part of the Soviet Union team. Since gaining their independence they have played in every World Cup from 1994 to date, but have never finished better than 9th (in 1994 and 1998), and no better than 11th since they ceased to be treated as a “European” team and were moved into Asia.
Kazakhstan have a good record against Ireland, with three wins in four games, but all of the wins were before 1999. Their only game against the United States was in 2010, when they lost 51-0 and they have also never previously played New Zealand.
Rugby is a minority sport in Kazakhstan, but when it does capture the public imagination the profile of their women’s team eclipses that of their men’s, while captain Anna Yakovleva is comfortably the most well-known rugby player of either sex.
This is partly due to player numbers – according to most sources over 40% of adult players in the country are women (worldwide it’s about 6%). However it is also due to on-field success. Up to 2001 they were members of FIRA and regularly took part in the European championship, never finishing outside the top six and recording wins over Wales and Italy. After that date they were moved into Asia, where they have never lost a game, and have multiple regional titles and Asian Games gold medals – indeed Kazakhstan are the only team in this year’s tournament who have been unbeaten since the last World Cup in 2010. However, while the trophy cabinet is bulging, the loss of an opportunity to play teams like England and France regularly has undoubtedly had an effect, as their results in the world cup since 2001 show.
Kazakhstan also have one of the world cup's two 40 year-olds, lock Svetlana Karatygina who is 40 years 3 months and is also - at 1.85m (6'1") - one of the tallest.
Nineteen of Kazakhstan's players come from one club - Almaty SRC.
Registered adult players: 946
Registered players per 1000 women: 6.68
Scrumqueens test ranking: 2
World Cup Seeding: 1
Results - all time: P 71, W 62, D 1, L 8
Results – since last World Cup: P 13, W 7, D 1, L 5
Average age of squad: 28.0
New Zealand have played in every World Cup, except 1994 when the IRB’s failure to endorse the tournament resulted in their non-participation. Champions at every tournament since 1998 their only reversal came in 1991 when they lost their semi-final against the United States. As a result they officially finished third, alongside France – although France did win an unofficial third-place game 3-0 (a result which appears prominently in French records but is largely absent from those of New Zealand)
Of their pool opponents, the Black Ferns have only previously played the United States, who they have beaten in six of their seven meetings – the only exception being that semi-final in 1991. In fact this remains the only World Cup game that New Zealand have ever lost.
Although 1991 was the first World Cup, a year before New Zealand staged a "mini" world cup as part of a two week festival of women's rugby in Canterbury. Teams entered from the United States, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union and Japan (though the Japanese team withdrew shortly before the event) and the national teams played several club sides before the main tournament. New Zealand won, beating the US team 9-3 in the crucial game (the only points the US conceded in their entire two week tour) before going on to also beat a World XV composed of players from all teams 12-4. Remarkably this tournament remains by far the largest international women's rugby tournament ever held in New Zealand - or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. The NZRU were not responsible for women's rugby until 1992, and did not recognise the tournament until 2010.
Prop Aleisha Nelson is tournament's heaviest player (109kg) while the battle between lock Sanita Levave and Ireland's Marie Louise Reilly will be interesting as Sanita is, at 1.86m (6'1"), the second tallest player at the tournament.
As well as being the current World Champions at fifteens, New Zealand are also World Champions at sevens (won in Moscow last year), and World Sevens series champions. The only other world rugby titles (rugby league and touch) are held by Australia.
Wing Honey Hireme was captain of the New Zealand rugby league team in the Women's Rugby League World Cup, held in England last year. They lost to Australia in the final.
New Zealand have fewer registered adult players than Tunisia. However they do have over 14,000 registered junior (U18) players (more than any other country) - and U18 players can play adult rugby in New Zealand up to provincial level.
Registered adult players: 15349
Registered players per 1000 women: 0.15
Scrumqueens test ranking: 5
World Cup Seeding: 5
Results - all time: P 95, W 53, D1, L 41
Results – since last World Cup: P 17, W 7, L 10
Average age of squad: 29.4
The United States were famously the winners of the first World Cup in 1991, and also appeared in the finals of the first three tournaments losing to England in 1994 and New Zealand in 1998. However, since 1998 they have failed to reach a semi-final, finishing in fifth place in 2002, 2006 and 2010
The USA are also the also only team in this pool to have played (and beaten) all of the other teams. Apart from their famous win against New Zealand in 1991, they beat Kazakhstan in 2010 (the only time they have met), and have beaten Ireland in four of their five games.
The success of the American team in 1991 was no surprise. The first major overseas tour by a women's team had been a tour to Europe only six years before where the Americans had proved to be overwhelmingly superior to every side they played. Though the rest of the world has since caught up with the USA they still retain the advantage of a huge player base, with more than twice as many registered adult players than any other country in the world.
The United States have two of the world cup's tallest locks, Carmen Farmer and Sarah Walsh, both 1.85m (6'1") and overall the USA is both the tallest and heaviest team in Paris.
New Zealand v Kazakhstan
United States v Ireland
United States v Kazakhstan
New Zealand v Ireland
Ireland v Kazakhstan
New Zealand v United States