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England’s women face Fiji first in 2021 Rugby World Cup


England’s women have won the Rugby World Cup twice, in 1994 and 2014

England’s women will play their first match of Rugby World Cup 2021 against debutants Fiji at Eden Park in New Zealand.

Wales will face the final qualifier from the repechage tournament, at the Northlands Events Centre.

England and Wales are both in action on the opening day of competition, with both kicking off at 04:45 BST on Saturday, 18 September.

Tournament organisers hope to set new match records for attendance.

England head coach Simon Middleton says the opening match with Fiji will be “a fantastic occasion”.

Wales will be play tournament hosts and reigning world champions New Zealand in their second Pool A match at Waitakere Stadium on Thursday, 23 September.

“International rugby doesn’t come much better than that,” said new Wales head coach Warren Abrahams.

“Playing New Zealand, the current champions and one of the most successful teams in the history of the women’s game, in their own back yard will be a pretty special moment for all our players.

“Many of them haven’t played New Zealand before and to play them in front of a huge crowd in New Zealand may never happen again.”

Wales will also face Australia in Pool A.

Eden Park will be used on three days of the tournament, hosting seven games in total including the final on Saturday, 16 October.

The 44,000-capacity stadium was also the venue for the men’s Rugby World Cup finals in 1987 and 2011.

New Zealand will open the defence of their title against southern hemisphere rivals Australia, also at Eden Park.

England have been drawn in Pool C along with Fiji, South Africa and France.

The Red Roses will face South Africa in their second match on 23 September before playing Les Bleus in the concluding match of the pool stage.

“We all know there’s an even bigger picture outside of rugby and sport at the moment, but the World Cup is a huge opportunity for not only the worldwide rugby community but everyone to come together and celebrate a great event at a time when the world is struggling,” added Middleton.

With New Zealand still experiencing some of the lowest levels of coronavirus in the world, details around travel and quarantine for squads and any travelling fans are yet to be unveiled.

It means New Zealand’s ambition to break tournament records is likely to be achieved mainly through home supporters.

The biggest UK attendance for a women’s rugby union match was the 2017 World Cup final at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, which was watched by 17,115 fans.

The biggest global attendance is thought to be the 2014 Women’s World Cup final, when Paris’ Stade Jean Bouin sold out its 20,000 seats.

However, with France failing to make the final, an official attendance was never recorded as many fans watched the host nation in the third/fourth place play-off with Ireland but did not stay on to watch England beat Canada in the showpiece.

Regardless of how New Zealand fill the seats, Abrahams said: “We all want to play in front of supporters.

“Having a big crowd ignites another level of energy in players and raises performance levels.”

World Rugby is yet to confirm when qualifying for the tournament will be completed.

There are still three places to be filled in the tournament, with 12 countries in the mix to secure them.

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