Organisers of New Zealand’s 2021 Rugby World Cup have announced plans to break the attendance record for the women’s tournament after the match schedule was confirmed.

New Zealand was awarded hosting rights to the event in November 2018 and in February 2020 it was announced the World Cup would be held at three stadia – Waitakere Stadium in Henderson, Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre and Auckland’s Eden Park.

World Rugby announced in 2019 that it would be dropping the gender prefix from its women’s tournaments to ensure that all of its competitions have an equal billing from a brand perspective. The 2021 World Cup is the first tournament under the new model.

The opening day on September 18 will see Eden Park host three matches, including reigning champions New Zealand against Australia. With teams and fans at the heart of tournament planning, organisers said the match schedule has been developed to maximise the advancement of women’s rugby on the world stage.

Games at Eden Park, venue for the men’s final in 1987 and 2011, Northland Events Centre and Waitakere Stadium will be marketed with “attractive ticketing and entertainment programmes”. The 44,000-capacity Eden Park will also host the semi-finals on October 9 and the bronze final and final on October 16.

RWC 2021 will see the return of a quarter-final stage, while longer rest periods between match days and expanded squad sizes are designed to enable the world’s top teams to perform at their best. Due to its handling of COVID-19, New Zealand has been one of the few nations in the world able to stage sporting events with significant numbers of fans in attendance.

The BBC said the fact that details around travel and quarantine for squads and travelling fans are yet to be unveiled means that the attendance record goal will likely need to be achieved mainly through home support. The current world record attendance for a women’s rugby union match is thought to be the 20,000 sell out at Paris’ Stade Jean Bouin for the final of France’s 2014 World Cup.

Rugby World Cup 2021 tournament director Michelle Hooper said: “Our team is developing a robust platform on which to deliver an incredible tournament that will draw greater attention to women’s rugby than ever before. For the fans here in New Zealand and the global audience tuning in to watch via the international broadcast, we are excited to have such a compelling and exhilarating mix of match contestants in the opening weekend.

“It will give fans a taste of the excitement from the first kick-off and have them hooked to attend or watch every match of the tournament, in a schedule that promises to deliver an action-packed and intense competition, super-charging the women’s game globally and firing up and inspiring fans around the globe.”

World Rugby chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, added: “There is a very real, unstoppable momentum building behind the rise of women in rugby now and 2021 will be a year like no other, providing a unique opportunity to continue to accelerate the growth and profile of the sport, as women’s rugby rightly is set to own centre stage this year.”

Image: World Rugby