The teams will first play across three pools of four with each team playing the other three teams in their pool. The two top teams in each pool, together with the two best-third-placed teams, will qualify for the quarter-finals, a stage that returns to the women’s Rugby World Cup for the 2021 tournament.
As well as the addition of quarter-finals, the match schedule has been revised to guarantee longer rest periods, which will greatly benefit player welfare. These changes mean that the tournament window increases from 23 to 35 days, while squad sizes will also increase from 28 to 30.
Teams will be seeded from one to eight for the quarter-finals, based on the position they finished in their respective pools and most competition points scored, with the quarter-final make-up being: seed 1 v seed 8, seed 2 v seed 7, seed 3 v seed 6 and seed 4 v seed 5.
The four quarter-final winners will progress to the semi-finals with the two teams emerging victorious from that stage meeting at Eden Park on 16 October to battle it out for the honour of adding their name to the coveted trophy as 2021 champions.
The 12 teams were drawn into three pools of four teams on 20 November, 2020 during a star-studded event at SkyCity Theatre in Auckland.
The teams had been seeded in four bands of three teams based on the World Rugby Women’s Rankings as of 1 January, 2020, with the seven direct qualifiers filling the top seven spots and the five qualifiers completing the bands as follows:
Band 1 – New Zealand, England, Canada
Band 2 – France, Australia, USA
Band 3 – Wales, Europe 1, South Africa
Band 4 – Asia 1, Fiji, Final Qualification Tournament Winner
In the presence of 400 guests in Auckland and players and fans watching from around the world via the official Rugby World Cup 2021 website New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern together with Rugby World Cup winners Melodie Robinson, Dr Farah Palmer and Dan Carter drew the balls into the three pools.
The teams were randomly drawn from each band, starting with Band 4 (Asia 1, Fiji, Final Qualification winner), then Band 3 (Wales, Europe 1, South Africa), then Band 2 (France, Australia, USA) and finally Band 1 (New Zealand, England, Canada). The first drawn in each band was placed in Pool A, the second in Pool B and the third in Pool C.