Rugby World Cup 2021 delay disappoints England camp

By Sara OrchardBBC Sport
New Zealand
New Zealand are the reigning World Cup holders after beating England 41-32 in the 2017 final in Ireland

There is "intense disappointment" in the England camp that the 2021 Rugby World Cup is to be delayed by a year.

World Rugby say the "challenging Covid-19 landscape" influenced its decision to recommend the delay.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Rugby Football Union head of women's performance Nicky Ponsford says she does not believe the decision was a "gender issue".

She said: "World Rugby wants the World Cup to be a pinnacle event so wants it played under optimum conditions."

Ponsford added: "That means the teams get to prepare properly, that everybody gets to qualify on the pitch and that we play in front of full stadia with crowds not just from New Zealand but from across the world."

Following the announcement of the delay, former Wales full-back Dyddgu Hywel echoed a number of voices saying women's international rugby was being treated unfairly compared to the men during the pandemic.

However Ponsford can see positives from the decision: "Lots of friends, family, supporters of the women's game have said 'brilliant we'll get to go'.

"Yes there is some men's sport happening but I'd counter that with 'yes there's some women's sport happening, Allianz Premier 15s is happening week in week out'.

"And there are no crowds at the men's Six Nations, we might get some crowds at the end of our Six Nations so there are pros and cons to all of this."

The World Cup had originally been planned to be held in New Zealand from the 18 September to 16 October.

New Zealand's borders are currently closed to most travellers following recent outbreaks of coronavirus.

It is understood that completing the qualification schedule and player quarantine measures for 11 visiting Test sides were becoming logistically too complicated.

While New Zealand's Black Ferns are favourites win a sixth title, England's Red Roses are expected to be their greatest challengers and the Rugby Football Union had ensured its players were exposed to as much game time as Covid-19 restrictions allowed.

After speaking to the England players on Wednesday morning, Ponsford said: "We've had huge amounts of support, everyone has worked tirelessly and gone above and beyond to get the game to where we are now.

"I think on reflection, we can't underestimate how much this has been good for us, every session we've done is a session in the bank."

While dates are yet to be discussed for the tournament next year, England will now sit down with all their players individually to discuss their futures and possible retirements.

"We know there are players coming to the latter end of their career and it is a discussion about what is right for those players."

Ponsford remains confident the new World Cup dates will be agreed as soon as possible, despite next year being a Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup year.

"We've got a lot of planning to do," she said.

"This had made the position with the Olympics an easier work-through for some players who wanted to cross-over."

A final decision on the World Cup delay is expected after the Rugby World Cup board and World Rugby's executive committee consider the recommendation on 8 and 9 March.

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