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It is past time to get excited for the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on Wednesday. I am more than ready. My excitement comes from the fact that I was entirely captivated by the last Women’s Rugby World Cup. There are reasons to think this tournament will be as good, and maybe better. An additional excitement boost comes from the fact that to get ready, I’ve re-watched some recent USA matches and find myself imagining how things could—maybe, just maybe—go well for the Eagles.
While I have read and watched people be both pleased with and disappointed in the tournament build up, I have not seen much comment on how crazy the schedule is. All 12 teams play five matches over 18 days. That is a lot of rugby is not a lot of time.
Here is the USA schedule for pool play:
Italy - Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET
Spain - Sunday, August 13 at 9:45 a.m. ET
England - Thursday, August 17 at 9:30 a.m. ET
We know that the Eagles will play on Tuesday, August 22 and Saturday, August 26. The question is for what they are playing.
Only four teams advance from pool play with a chance to win. With three pools, that means that the three pool-winners plus the top runner up play in the semi-finals. However, all teams are seeded 1-12 after pool matches. The top four play to win the tournament, the middle four (seeds five through eight) play for fifth place, and the bottom four play for ninth place.
From an American perspective, the Eagles (currently ranked seventh by World Rugby) are set up with a slim chance to make it to the semi-finals, but a real chance to be playing for fifth place.
Given that it has been two years since they knocked off a top-level side, an upset against England is highly unlikely, and wins against Italy and Spain cannot be taken for granted. The Eagles should head into their first two matches with confidence, though. Italy finished the 2017 Six Nations without a win. Spain’s most recent test match was a 26-21 loss to Wales.
Bonus points will be the determining factor in who the top second place finisher is and, therefore, gets to play in the semi-finals. The Eagles need to not only win the matches against Ireland and Spain, but also score four tries in each match. Additionally, in the match against England, they need to secure either the try bonus point or the losing bonus point (losing by seven points or fewer).
Collecting the two wins and three or four bonus points is possible, but unlikely. Much more likely is exiting pool play seeded somewhere in the middle group, playing for fifth place. Winning fifth place would be a great result for the Eagles. It would mean at least three wins from the five matches, including, almost certainly, two against teams currently ranked above them.
The biggest concern for the Eagles is their scrum. The forwards have struggled at scrum-time in recent performances. There are several dangerous attacking players in the Eagles’ squad. However, it is difficult to be dangerous going backward.
One player with the skill set to turn a negative situation into a positive is Alev Kelter. Kelter in the center is also like having an extra scrum half or back rower—depending on what is needed at the time.
If the warm-up against the WPL All Stars is any indication, the plan is to get the wingers involved often. Given the strength of the wingers, that is a wise strategy. Naya Tapper is one player who could emerge as not only a star for the USA, but one of the stars of the tournament. Kristen Thomas and Jessica Javelet are two other players that can help the Eagles get the tries they need for the bonus points.
Rugby fans should have high expectations for this World Cup. American rugby fans should keep their eyes on that fifth-place spot and measure the Eagles’ performance against that.