In Moscow at the 7s World Cup in July of 2013 luck fell like snow in a Russian winter on the USA women. Enough solid play and a favorable pool draw saw them slide through to the semi-finals where New Zealand ended the world championship dream (19-10), but in the rain soaked 3rd place match Spain missed a conversion in front of the post as time ran out sending the match into overtime where a Vanesha McGee try sealed the Eagles’ victory.
That luck doesn’t seem to be following the Eagles to the Women’s 15s World Cup in Paris in August, 2014. In Pool B with the USA is the virtually unchallenged dominant side in women’s rugby, the New Zealand Black Ferns. The Black Ferns have 19 consecutive World Cup victories. The last time they were beaten in a World Cup match was by the USA (7-0) in a semi-final of the inaugural 1991 World Cup. Canada traveled to New Zealand this summer for World Cup warm-up matches. They lost 8-16 and 21-33 to the Black Ferns. This is the Canadian side that destroyed the USA (51- 7) in April, 2014, and beat Australia (3rd place in 2010 World Cup) 20-0 this summer.
The 2014 version of the Women’s World Cup has 3 pools with 4 teams in each pool. Only the winner from each pool and one second place team with the most ‘competition points’ will go through to the semi-finals. Competition points are obtained by winning a match (4), drawing (2), losing by less than 7 points (1), and scoring 4 or more tries (1). The Eagles will be lucky to get 10 points: 4 each for beating Ireland and Kazakhstan, 1 for losing by less than 7 to New Zealand, and 1 for scoring 4 tries against Kazakhstan. Ireland is not going to be a team to let the USA easily score 4 tries. In the 2014 Six Nations Ireland defeated Wales 14-6 and lost to England 17-10. USA Women’s summer 2014 tour scores were a 10-7 victory over Wales on June 28th and 13-17 loss to England on July 6th.
Being a pool’s second place team in most tournaments would be good enough to qualify for the quarterfinals, but the 2014 version of the Women’s World Cup has no quarterfinals. Only one second place team out of all 3 pools will join the 3 pool winners in the semi-finals on August 13th. Pool A (Canada, England, Samoa, Spain) has the best draw for a second place team. Canada and England (2nd place in 2010 World Cup) should play each other close and probably end up with the losing team getting a point for losing by less than 7. The other two teams are relatively much weaker. The loser of England v Canada (I’m predicting Canada wins.) should be able to run up 4 tries in each of those victories and thus end up with 11 ‘competition points’ and a spot in the semi-finals.
Pool C (Australia, France, South Africa, Wales) also is a better pool draw for the second place team. France won the 2014 Women’s Six Nations and will give Australia (3rd place in 2010 World Cup) a battle to be the pool winner. Wales lost 27-0 to France during the 2014 Six Nations championship, and on July 4th South Africa fell 46-8 to France. The current French side has shown they can run up 4 tries against the current Welsh and South African sides. If they lose to Australia by less than 7, they could gather 11 competition points and a shot at a semi-final match on home soil.
If two second place teams have the same number of competition points, the team to go through to the semi-final will be decided based on point differential. Every team that is thinking they might end up second in the pool needs to run up points whenever they can to increase their chance of being the “lucky” second place team that makes the semi-finals. If teams are still tied after pool play and comparing point differences, try differences, total points, and total tries, the team that goes through to a semi-final match will be decided by the flip of a coin. Seriously.
Ultimately is it about winning or enjoying the game? If you are New Zealand, it is about winning (again). For everyone else it is about getting the shot to play the Black Ferns in the final. A main World Cup goal is ‘to showcase and to empower the boost in the women’s game’. Every team plays 5 matches (3 pool, 2 play-off). If your team does not win their pool or end up as the 2nd place team with the most competition points, they end up playing for 5th-8th place or 9th-12th place depending on how they finished in their pool. It seems that it would be better for the game to have a format more like the Men’s World Cup with at least 16 teams in 4 pools and the top 2 teams from each pool going to a quarterfinal. The fervor that erupted when the USA men reached the knock-out phase of the soccer World Cup illustrates how that can ‘empower a boost in the game’.
After the brief 9 days of pool play (Aug. 1st-9th) there will only be 4 teams in the hunt for the World Cup. If the USA wants to have a chance to be one of them, on August 1st they will need to come out hard and run in at least 4 tries against Ireland.