We look at what next for all 12 of the teams who competed at the Women's World Cup.
The to do list for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) in the wake of the wild success of its Black Ferns team is long. Securing more home test matches, expanding and improving representative and domestic competitions like Super Rugby Aupiki, appointing a new coaching team and building a plan to grow their grassroots base, should all be priorities in the weeks and months ahead.
Add to that the urgent requirement for a smart marketing plan to sustain the interest the Black Ferns have generated in the last couple of months – something that will be a challenge with few home games on the horizon (unless New Zealand are hosting the first outing of the WXV).
As columnist Jim Kayes put it in a column at the weekend “New Zealand Rugby just needs to shift its myopic focus from the All Blacks.” NZR has had justified criticism over the years for its handling of women’s rugby, but the pandemic put paid to genuinely exciting plans for the team to play more than ever before, and the country’s top players are earning more than most of their international counterparts. If those running the game (and how about more women there too?) can get it right – the beginning of yet another dominant era surely lies ahead.
It’s hard to even contemplate the devastation the English players and coaches must have felt at the end of a World Cup Final they once seemed predestined to win.
Off the field English women’s rugby looks in good shape – the acceleration of the Premier 15s, complete with the confirmation of a new CEO during the World Cup, and the continued growth in grassroots numbers and strong broadcast and fan interest, means that the trajectory of the game is on the up.
There are decisions to be made though - chief among them may be whether to bring in a new coaching team, with Simon Middleton now having done two World Cup cycles and with a review to come. It’s hard to criticise a team that has so ruthlessly played to its strengths and done so successfully for so long, but it is equally hard not to think that England's style has been to the detriment of their backline – Emily Scarratt was used so little in attack for example at the World Cup, that when she did get odd chances, she seemed strangely subdued.
This is surely a team should be empowered to play in a way that showcases all their talents because they absolutely have the players to do it.
Deju vu for France as they finished third yet again. The loss of Laure Sansus was clearly huge for France, and though Pauline Bourdon did very well, she’s not Sansus and her decision making and leadership was sorely missed.
All that said, France do need something to change if they aren’t going to forever be bronze medallists. Though they have always taken pride in their hybrid status, is it time for France to support all its players to become fulltime permanently? Their semi-professional policy – for all its justification – cannot surely continue. And unlike many of the teams around them, they do have the resources to do it.
There must also be question marks about the change in coaching team just months before the World Cup – in the end it changed nothing.
One of the most admired teams of the entire World Cup, the indefatigable Canadians will be disappointed with their final outing, after such a good showing, but it hardly takes away from the residual view that this is a team who would benefit enormously with more support.
Canada’s challenge is that though they could absolutely be doing more, their governing body does not have anywhere near the resources of the teams they are competing with, and so they are reliant on making the most out of the time they have together in and around major tournaments.
Encouraging their players to play overseas for now seems to be a strategy to expose their top talent to the highest standards, but a stronger university competition (where much Canadian talent is discovered) and a world in which the best players are playing in Canada must be among the long term aims.
Rugby Canada must also find the means to invest in their players with contracts, whether that it is through commercial investment or through their own means. They have a team capable of winning a World Cup if they can do so.
Italy had their best ever World Cup - and that means for men and women. No Italian team had ever reached the quarterfinals before.
So, the challenge for Italy will be whether they wish to acclerate or reward success or continue to slowly increase support for their women's team. The divide between the support (and prestige) given to their men's and women's teams is probably greater in Italy than in any other of the Six Nations. It is gradually being broken down, but more needs to be done, especially financially.
Funding for the players began just before the World Cup and needs to continue. Italy have achieved remarkable things as an amateur team, but against increasingly professional opponents they have reached the ceiling of what can be done within their current structure.
Another challenge lies perhaps in their coaching team, which may need refreshing. Andrea di Giandomenico is a marvellous coach and has done wonders, but he has been the Head Coach of Italy since 2009. He cannot keep going forever and some sort of succession needs to be put in place that builds on what he has achieved.
At every World Cup we see the amazing potential that Australia has, and after every World Cup they disappear from view only to surface just in time for the next World Cup.
The challenge for Australia is therefore this – are they now going to take women's XVs test rugby seriously, or not? They will now have WXV, and the United States will be competing every year for a spot in the top division. All the ingredients they need to become one of the top four nations in the world are there. They just need to take them.
Yes, as with just about every other team, its resources and funding, but with Australia it is also will and desire. Undoubtedly the players have that. Much has been happening in Australia to build the domestic game and the Super W has been a very welcome addition to the domestic effort. Things are happening and now the foot must be kept on the gas.
So close but so far for Wales, but they still go home optimistic that this can be a springboard for more and better in the future. With investment growing into the top players, and seemingly a settled coaching team in place, Wales should benefit from consistency over the next three years.
In the long run there is plenty of work to do in the Welsh women’ game, not least surely developing a strategy that sees at least some of its top players playing in Wales. It was remarkable that not a single player at the World Cup played their club rugby at home – a reminder that the leagues there are not of sufficient quality, something that absolutely must change if the WRU want sustainable roots to develop its game.
The USA reached the quarter-finals but ended the World Cup with just one win – against 12th placed Japan – and with comfortable defeats to Italy and Canada (twice).
The hosts of the 2033 World Cup surely need to act to halt a possible slow decline in relation to the rest of the world. Though there were some positive performances, the cold hard reality is that this year was their worst ever World Cup finish and if unchecked they could well slip below 7th in 2025.
Until the 2014 World Cup there used to be little to choose between the USA and their great rivals, Canada, but since then the USA have only beaten Canada twice in 12 games, their last win coming in 2019. They cannot continue as a wholly amateur team and retain a place at the top table, but finding the necessary investment remains a massive challenge. Their biggest positive is the fact that they host the World Cup in a decade and that will focus minds that the team needs more help and support to stay competitive.
One of the teams people absolutely loved to watch, Fiji excited everyone and narrowly missed out on a place in the quarter-finals in their first World Cup, which would have been a remarkable experience.
Their lack of test match practice, meant they loooked undaunted playing teams like England, and with more training and time together they will surely be a team to watch.
As with other teams in and around them, they need to play more – which will come with the WXV – and improve their discipline and match fitness, so that they can reliably play the full 80 minutes. The challenge is how they will fund the coaching and technical support needed to reach their potential.
Quietly, women’s rugby in South Africa has been making giant progress in recent years. Some 19 of its top players already had contracts before the World Cup – a number that will rise to 30 next year, while strengthening the domestic game is a major focus.
While the team were disappointed not to win a game at the World Cup, the emergence of stars like No 8 Aseza Hele who showed herself to be one of the most powerful ball carriers in the game, reminded that there is huge talent in South Africa.
The team played naively at times, but with more game time and exposure, and consistent support from their governing body, they will surely be a team to watch. Lynne Cantwell’s arrival to oversee their programme, will surely bear more fruition in the years ahead.
Scotland were delighted to simply qualify for their first World Cup in over a decade, but must have been so disappointed with the results overall. The were so close to making the quarter-finals, but instead returned without a win.
And that is their immediate challenge - winning. Losing the occasional close game by the the odd point is not that unusual in any sport, for for Scotland it now seems to happen all the time. The ability and support is there, but something else seems to be needed to help get them finally over the line. Whether the SRU changes its coaching team will be intersting to watch - something new is needed somewhere to turn those narrow losses into wins.
Longer term the game in Scotland faces the same challenges faced by Wales - investment needs to go the whole way down. New players needs to found and nurtured with a development path than does not require them always to cross the border if they have international ambitions.
Japan were the only team to end the World Cup with no tournament points, finishing bottom of Pool B having lost to Canada, Italy and the USA.
Japan’s preparations for the World Cup were hit by Covid more than any other team, and they surely simply need to play more test rugby – especially outside Asia where they have not lost a test match for nearly nine years. They will in consequence benefit hugely from WXV where, as Asia’s top team, they are guaranteed a place in WXV2.
The fact they played with such exciting intent and that many of their players were being talked up throughout the pool stages, highlights their serious potential.