Ireland's bid to reach the Women's Rugby World Cup 2021 has been thrown into chaos after European rugby chiefs again postponed a key leg of the qualification process.
Despite this, Rugby World Cup 2021 hosts New Zealand announced that the draw for the competition will go ahead next month.
Adam Griggs' team have failed to qualify after a calamitous run of form but were primed for a European qualification tournament in December featuring Scotland, Italy and the winners of the Rugby Europe Championship.
However, those plans have been thrown into disarray after Rugby Europe this morning announced the scrapping of all 2020 fixtures under its jurisdiction, including the Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification matches.
Ireland’s squad are not full-time professionals so this latest interruption to their Rugby World Cup 2021 bid is likely to cause more headaches within the cash-strapped corridors of the IRFU.
The games may now be pushed on until after the 2021 Six Nations although there is an outside chance that if further delays occur, Spain, the most likely qualifiers, may proceed straight to the play-offs.
Spain were due to play Russia this Saturday and then face the Netherlands a week later in the remaining Rugby Europe Championship fixtures.
The Spaniards are the highest-ranked of the three nations and had been favourites to win the Rugby Europe Championship and advance into the Qualifier to take on Ireland, Italy, and Scotland in December’s round-robin series.
Despite the ongoing Covid-related chaos in the northern hemisphere, the blissfully unaware south declared that next month’s draw will proceed in Auckland on November 20th.
Hosted in the southern hemisphere for the first time in a golden year for women’s rugby, the ninth edition of the showcase tournament will take place from 18 September-16 October 2021 across three match venues. It will be contested by 12 teams, of which nine are already confirmed.
Seven teams qualified directly for RWC 2021 courtesy of a top-seven finish at the last tournament in Ireland in 2017, defending champions New Zealand, runners-up England, bronze medallists France, USA, Canada, Australia and Wales.
Ireland’s current slump began at that hosting, when they flopped to an eighth placed finish which required them to qualify for next year’s tournament.
Fiji and South Africa confirmed their places through the regional qualification process back in 2019, via the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup and Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship.
The remaining three places will be filled by a qualifier from Asia and Europe together with the winner of the Final Qualification Tournament, a first for a women’s Rugby World Cup, offering a second opportunity for teams to qualify.
For the first time, the World Rugby Women’s Rankings will be used to determine the draw seedings and bands for the seven direct qualifiers in bands one to three, with the five teams to emerge from the qualification process to be placed into band three and four.
The recent Rugby World Cup Board decision for the World Rugby Women’s Rankings from 1 January, 2020 to be applied represents the fairest approach. It was the last time all teams were able to play before the emergence of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
The bands are:
Band 1 – New Zealand, England, Canada
Band 2 – France, Australia, USA
Band 3 – Wales, Europe 1, South Africa
Band 4 – Asia 1, Fiji, Final Qualifier winner
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw marks an important milestone for teams and fans alike as momentum truly starts to build towards the most important international rugby tournament of 2021.
"We are in unusual and unique times with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. However, working in full partnership with New Zealand Rugby and local and national authorities, we are committed to a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021.
"We look forward to welcoming the world’s top women’s 15s players to New Zealand and fans around the world as we look to raise the bar for women’s rugby and women in rugby in line with our important and impactful 2017-25 Women in Rugby plan.”
Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director Michelle Hooper said the tournament was now less than a year away and plans were ramping up.
"The official draw is another step on the journey towards kick-off, and the buzz is building. We can’t wait to welcome all 12 teams to Aotearoa New Zealand and showcase our manaakitanga to the world. The draw will determine who will play the first matches at Eden Park and Northland Events Centre which is an exciting prospect."