"The tidal wave is coming": Australia's support for women's rugby not slowed by World Cup bid defeat

Womens Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Missing out on the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup hosting rights won't halt Australia's commitment to women's rugby, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle says.

Australia fell five votes short of the 22 required to win the 2021 tournament, with New Zealand taking the vote 25-17 in Dublin on Thursday, in the most competitive vote in the tournament's history.

World Rugby was quick to praise both bids after the announcement and Castle said the process had shown the appetite for women's rugby in Australia.

"It was an amazing bid and I think what it's shown us is that there is such an enormous passion for women's rugby in Australia," she said.

"We managed to unlock $10 million worth of government funding. We had the Newcastle Hunter region incredibly excited, all the rugby clubs and volunteers in that part of the world that wanted to host a rugby world cup, women's rugby world cup, so we need to make sure we maximise those opportunities and the tidal wave is coming and is running for women's rugby.

We need to make sure that in Australia we make the most of it be that sevens or XVs and the support our rugby community has shown us around this process only reassures that we're doing the right thing by putting additional emphasis on our women's program and making it a really important part of our high performance pathway.

"Rugby Australia would just like to thank everybody for what they've done - certainly the governments, federal and NSW govt and their belief in Rugby Australia and also the sport of women's XVs.

"I think it's also the overwhelming support we've had from the rugby community. We're disappointed we couldn't bring it home for them but it's really heartened us the support that they've given us.

Raelene Castle. Photo: Getty ImagesCastle said Rugby Australia's support of women's XVs won't slow down now. 

"We've got Super W that's hugely important, that now will go to another level next year, the growth in women's participation in Sevens and XVs is double, almost close to triple digits in some parts of the country and also sometimes in non-traditional states," she said.

"There's a real demand for it and we need to make sure that we've got the competitions in place that can deliver those young athletes great experiences.

"Ultimately the Wallaroos is always going to be a focus for us to make sure we go to the World Cup with the best team that we can possible develop. We've now got a system that allows us to identify and deliver those athletes. We are hugely excited about the possibilities."

The next Women's Rugby World Cup will be in 2025 and though Australia will also have a Lions tour on the radar that year, Castle said they hadn't ruled out the possibility of putting in a bid for that tournament.

"I think that's something we'll have to consider now," she said.

"When you go through these processes you need to take stock and have a look and see. That is a possibility, I think we will look and see. It's on record that we are keen to bid for the men's world cup in 2027, so very quickly our focus turns to that."

It is believed that many of the tournament's biggest hitters - including the four home nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland - voted for Australia but its Southern Hemisphere rivals and some nations without teams in the competition put their votes behind New Zealand.

Castle said the success of the Black Ferns, who are the reigning champions, may have tipped the New Zealand bid over the line.

Certainly, regardless of their decision on that front, Castle said their commitment to women's rugby wouldn't change after a landmark year of growth for the code.

"It doesn't change anything from developing our Wallaroos team it just means now we won't be playing on home soil, we'll be going across the Tasman to try and win that World Cup," she said.

"It gives us a great opportunity, it's in our time zone, it's all that focus area. Whilst disappointing the girls won't get to play at home, they'll still get a huge amount of support."

While the Australian bid team was still disappointed by the result, Castle admitted there would be time to acknowledge the fact it was an historic moment for the Southern Hemisphere, set to host the tournament for the first time.

"It is a historic day to be in the Southern hemisphere and that's something it hasn't been before," she said.

"It is historic and we need to celebrate that but right at the moment we're a little disappointed."

The New Zealand representatives speaking after the announcement said they felt a proposal for a Pacific Nations tournament was pivotal in their win.

NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew praised the Australian bid after the announcement.

"It's not very often we compete with Australia and think it's unfair to win but today was a day that could've gone either way," he said.

"They had a very strong bid."

New Zealand will host the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2021. Photo: Getty ImagesDr Farah Palmer and former All Black Mark Robinson presented the New Zealand bid to the board and Tew said it was Palmer's plea in particular that may have swayed some votes.

"The presentation today was done by Farah and Mark, both who've represented the country and the jersey and represented our country on the board," he said.

"Farah spoke very passionately about her introduction to rugby, I think that added real meaning in the council room.

"While these things are often decided in advance of the vote, I think today actually there were votes to be won and I would pay tribute to these two, I think they won some today for us."

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said it almost felt like the tournament was "coming home" in being awarded to New Zealand.

"If I was a Kiwi, I'd think it's sort of coming home now in a way, really," he said.

"A lot of work's gone into not only from the potential bidders but also from the World Rugby team.

"Every member of the World Rugby Council would have got a fully documented appraisal of the two bids and then I think to date it was just about fine tuning and just what little bits got you excited and that's what obviously New Zealanders did extremely well."