England and Wales will head for New Zealand in October as the world champions host the sport’s elite teams in the inaugural WXV tournament.
World Rugby has confirmed the venues and dates for the new three-tier competition, which seeks to increase “the competitiveness, reach and impact” of the 15-a-side women’s game across the globe.
Eighteen teams will take part in the event, with the top six battling it out in WXV 1 in New Zealand across three weekends on October 21 and 28 and November 4, the next six contesting WXV 2 in South Africa on October 14, 21 and 28, and WXV 3 using the same dates but with the venue dependent on the nations qualifying.
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We made a pledge at a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand to accelerate the advancement of the women’s game.
“Much progress is being made at rapid pace and today we are marking another milestone with confirmation of the dates and venues for the inaugural WXV competition.
“With women and girls leading our strategy to grow the sport on a global basis, this competition will increase the reach and impact of the sport and drive the overall competitiveness of women’s international rugby as we look forward to an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup 2025 in England and subsequent Rugby World Cups in Australia in 2029 and USA in 2033.”
Beaten World Cup finalists England, France and Wales have already booked their places in WXV 1, while Scotland and Ireland will participate in WXV 2 and WXV 3 respectively with Italy and Spain playing off to decide the final European participants in those groups.
The World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 will determine the remaining three teams in WXV 1 and one team in WXV 2, with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States contesting the competition featuring the top two teams in Oceania and North America.
WXV 3 will comprise two sides from Europe and one each from Asia, Oceania, Africa and South America.
Each division in the annual tournament will be played out as a cross-pool format, with promotion and relegation – although not for the first two years leading up to the 2025 World Cup – adding spice.
Former England captain Sarah Hunter is confident the competition will help raise standards globally and hone teams for World Cup battle.
Hunter said: “To know that when you look at the calendar as England – and having recently played for England – that you’ll be playing some of the best teams in the world, it can only make you better, and to know that it’s not just every four years you get that opportunity to do so.
“I just think it’s a really exciting concept, that every year you’re going to be playing in one of the toughest competitions there is.”