The Canadian women will open the 2021 Rugby World Cup on Sept. 17 in Whangarei, New Zealand, against an Asian qualifier before taking on the U.S. and a European qualifier.
World Rugby unveiled the tournament schedule on Thursday. The draw, grouping the 12 competing teams, was made in November.
The ninth edition of the World Cup is scheduled for Sept. 17 to Oct. 16, 2021, across three match venues in New Zealand.
The third-ranked Canadians will play out of Pool B with the sixth-ranked Americans, Europe 1 and Asia 1.
The European entry will be decided by a tournament featuring No. 7 Italy, No. 8 Ireland and No. 11 Scotland plus the winner of the Rugby Europe Women's Championship 2020 (No. 10 Spain, No 14 Russia or the 17th-ranked Netherlands).
That tournament was scheduled to take place in December, but was postponed due to pandemic-related challenges.
The Asian team will be the winner of the Asia Rugby Women's Championship involving No. 12 Japan, No. 15 Kazakhstan and No. 18 Hong Kong. The tournament has been pushed back to May in Hong Kong.
After Whangarei, Canada will play its next two games in Auckland — Sept. 22 against the Americans and Sept. 27 against Europe 1.
The pool matches are actually to be played Sept. 8, 23 and 28 but Canada's matches will start the day before on Canadian time.
Second-ranked New Zealand, whose Black Ferns have won five of the last six World Cups, is on Pool A with No. 5 Australia, No. 9 Wales and the final qualification tournament winner. Top-ranked England is in Pool C with No. 4 France, No. 13 South Africa and No. 21 Fiji.
New Zealand will open against Australia at 44,00-capacity Eden Park on Sept. 18.
The Canadians have not been together since beating the Americans 19-0 and 52-27 at the Can-Am Series in November 2019 in California. The U.S. won when they met in the summer of 2019.
Many of the Canadians have moved abroad to keep playing during the pandemic, playing in England, France or New Zealand. The rest are in Canada, often fitting their training in around day jobs.
Seven teams qualified directly for the World Cup by virtue of finishing in the top seven at the 2017 tournament in Ireland: champion New Zealand, runner-up England, bronze medallist France, the U.S., Canada, Australia and Wales.
Fiji and South Africa booked their ticket last year through the Rugby Africa Women's Cup and Oceania Rugby Women's Championship, respectively.
In addition to the Asia and Europe qualifiers, a final team will come from a world repechage, a final qualification competition that is being held for the first time for the women. That field will feature the runners-up in European and Asian qualifying, Oceania playoff winner No. 16 Samoa and the winner of the Africa/South America playoff between No. 24 Kenya and No. 28 Colombia.
The World Cup quarterfinals will feature the top two teams from each pool and the two best third-placed teams.
The 2021 tournament marks the first World Cup for the women in the Southern Hemisphere.
Canada's best World Cup finish was runner-up in 2014 when it was beaten 21-9 by England. The Canadian women finished fourth in 1998, 2002 and 2006 (when Canada hosted).
Drawn in a pool with New Zealand in 2017, Canada finished fifth.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press