In an exciting display of commitment to growing the women’s game, World Rugby recently announced a new global tournament, WXV. The contest will be made up of 18 teams across three tiers, launching in October this year.
The first tier, WXV 1, sees the top three teams from the Women’s Six Nations and the top three teams from the World Rugby Pacific Four Series compete against each other, with each team playing three matches. There will be no relegation or promotion for the first two years of the competition.
In 2023, the WXV 2 tier will see two teams from Europe, the fourth-placed team from the Pacific Four Series, and one team each from Oceania, Asia, and Africa playing in a cross-pool format. Relegation does apply in this tier, with the sixth-placed team at the end of the tournament dropping down to WXV 3.
Lastly, WXV 3 will be made up from two teams from Europe, and one each from Asia, Oceana, Africa, and South America. Promotion and relegation apply in this tier, with the winner promoted to WXV 2, and the lowest-ranked team facing a play off against the next best ranked side, based on the Capgemini World Rugby Women’s Rankings on the Monday after the final match of WXV that year.
Cape Town will play host to the WXV 2 competition over the weekends of 14, 21 and 28 October, while New Zealand will host the WXV 1 games over the weekends of 21 and 28 October, and 4 November. Details of the WXV 3 host country are yet to be finalised. The Springbok Women will need to win the Africa Cup tournament later this month in order to secure their place in WXV 2 and play in front of a home crowd, but they have an outstanding record in that contest and should be feeling confident.
This is a wonderful way to address one of the primary challenges facing women’s rugby – lack of meaningful game time – and it will be exciting to watch a tournament such as this unfold. My one big concern is those dates, though. In order to truly grow the game, we need to get more people watching women’s rugby, so why on earth would you schedule the launch of a flagship competition to coincide with the business end of the Rugby World Cup? Hopefully the times of the fixtures can be set with this in mind, but it does seem a little silly.
And the good news doesn’t stop there for the women’s game in South Africa. After winning both legs of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series last month, the Springbok Women Sevens team has been promoted to core status for next season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. What’s more, in a hugely welcome step, the Blue Bulls Company made history when they announced that the Bulls Daisies would receive professional contracts – the first women’s team to be offered such contracts in the history of South African Rugby! The 35 players have been contracted for the next two seasons.
It goes without saying, surely, that we cannot expect the women’s game in this country, or any other, to be able to reach its full potential if it is still being played at the amateur level. The stark difference between the teams with professional contracts and those without was on full display at last year’s women’s World Cup. I hope this move from the Blue Bulls Company gives other unions, and indeed SARU, pause for thought, and that we’ll be seeing far more professional contracts signed across the board in the near future.