Rugby World Cup: History

  • 01/01/2022


Before the Rugby World Cup for women began, New Zealand hosted a two-week tournament that gathered USA, Netherlands and Soviet Union in Christchurch.

While doubts surrounds the exact status of the teams and whether the games constitute 'tests', the event was a forerunner to the first Women's World Cup the following year.

New Zealand went unbeaten across their three games and then defeated a World XV afterwards.


The first Women's Rugby World Cup was not sanctioned by the International Rugby Board and proceeded despite its disapproval. The governing body finally gave its retrospective blessing 18 years later, when it included this tournament on a list of previous winners.

Wales hosted 12 teams, divided into four pools of three, with France confirming their entry just minutes before the draw. Championship teams played five games over nine days, with only one day between.

The event failed attract crowds, TV contracts or sponsors, but the shortfall was met by anonymous businessmen and the English Rugby Football Union.

USA celebrate their 1991 victory over New Zealand with a Guinness
USA celebrate their 1991 victory over New Zealand with a Guinness. Photo credit: Getty

Another drain on revenue was the Soviet Union's inability to pay their bills, after they were prevented from leaving the country with hard cash. They hoped to meet their costs through bartering, and selling vodka and Russian dolls, but their activities were closed down by Customs.

New Zealand, France, USA and England emerged unbeaten from pool play, and progressed to the semis, where the Black Ferns lost to the Americans and England defeated the French. USA won the final 19-6, while France won an unofficial playoff for third. 

New Zealand beat Canada 24-8, beat Wales 24-6, lost to USA 7-0, lost to France 3-0


The second Women's Rugby World Cup was originally awarded to Netherlands, but they withdrew late, when the IRB again refused to endorse the tournament. That caused some outrage among member nations, with some - including New Zealand - pulling out.

Scotland stepped up to host the event, attended by 12 teams divided into four pools of three. USA, England, France and Wales were unbeaten, and duly progressed through quarter-finals, with England eventually turning the tables on the United States in the final.


The third Women's Rugby World Cup was the first endorsed by the IRB and finally took place at Amsterdam. 

Sixteen teams were divided into four groups of four, playing a convoluted format that saw the top seeds in each pool play the bottom seeds, the middle two facing off and the winners then playing off for the Cup quarter-finals draw.

England, USA, New Zealand and France won their groups, but Canada upset the French for a semi-final spot. The Kiwis and Americans eventually met in the final, with New Zealand capturing their first crown, 44-12.

Vanessa Cootes in action for New Zealand at 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup
Vanessa Cootes in action for New Zealand at 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Getty

Annaleah Rush - sister of All Blacks No.8 Xavier Rush - emerged as the tournament's topscorer, while Tammi Wilson, Vanessa Cootes and future MP Louisa Wall scored seven tries apiece to lead the Black Ferns.

New Zealand beat Germany 134-6, beat Scotland 76-0, beat Spain 46-3, beat England 44-11, beat USA 44-12


Sixteen nations again contested the fourth Women's Rugby World Cup, using the same format as the previous tournament.

New Zealand, England, France and Canada progressed to the semis, with past champions USA falling to the French in the quarter-finals. The Black Ferns beat France to reach the final, where they accounted for England 19-9 to claim back-to-back titles.

New Zealand beat Germany 117-0, beat Australia 36-3, beat France 30-0, beat England 19-9


Edmonton, Canada hosted the fifth Women's Rugby World Cup, attended by 12 teams selected on the basis of previous placings and international results during intervening years.

The most controversial inclusion was Samoa over Wales for the final spot in the field, while South Africa attended their first tournament.

Black Ferns perform a haka at 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup
Black Ferns perform a haka at 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Getty

Teams were divided into four groups of three, but instead of playing other teams in their pool, they crossed over with another pool - another perplexing twist in format.

New Zealand and England emerged unbeaten, but France edged USA by a solitary bonus point to reach the semis, while Canada needed a points-differential countback to head off Scotland. 

The Black Ferns beat France to reach the final, where they repeated their victory over England for their third straight crown.

Canadian fullback Heather Moyse scored seven tries to lead all scorers for the tournament, while NZ halfback Emma Jensen had 34 points for the champions.

New Zealand beat Canada 66-7, beat Samoa 50-0, beat Scotland 21-0, beat France 40-10, beat England 25-17


The sixth Women's Rugby World Cup was the first held in England and was a raging success, broadcast to 127 countries, with pool games sold out and record crowd of 13,253 for the final at Twickenham Stoop.

Twelve teams were divided into three pools in a more straightforward format, with the top teams from each group and the best second placegetters progressing to semi-finals.

New Zealand, England and France were the three pool winners, with Australia also advancing from the Kiwis' group.

Ultimately, the Black Ferns again met England in the final and snatched their fourth straight crown. Kelly Brazier was the tournament's topscorer with 48 points, while Carla Hohepa and Canadian Moyse led tryscorers with seven each.

New Zealand beat South Africa 55-3, beat Australia 32-5, beat Wales 41-8, beat France 45-7, beat England 13-10


France hosted the seventh Women's Rugby World Cup, with New Zealand withdrawing a bid to support Samoa in theirs.

Twelve teams followed the same format as four years earlier - three pools of four, with winners and the best second progressing to semis.

Pool play was notable for Ireland's upset 17-14 win over four-time champions New Zealand, consigning the Kiwis to a fifth-place playoff against USA, which they won 55-5.

Ireland celebrate their upset win over New Zealand in 2014
Ireland celebrate their upset win over New Zealand in 2014. Photo credit: Getty

England ended the giantkilling Irish run in the semis and accounted for Canada 21-9 in the final for their second crown.

England's Emily Scarratt was the tournament's topscorer with 70 points, while Black Ferns Selica Winiata and Shakira Baker led tryscorers with six each.

New Zealand beat Kazakhstan 79-5, lost to Ireland 17-14, beat USA 34-3, beat Wales 63-7, beat USA 55-5


The eighth - and last - Women's Rugby World Cup was brought forward a year to avoid falling in the same year as the men's tournament. 

Two years later, World Rugby confirmed the men's and women's tournaments would both be known as simply the Rugby World Cup, starting with the 2021 event in New Zealand.

Ireland was the only bidder to host the event, split between Dublin and Belfast, with 12 teams again divided into four pools, with four progressing to semis.

Still hurting from their early exit three years earlier, New Zealand went unbeaten in their pool, along with England and France, and USA the best second-placed team.

Black Ferns celebrate their 2017 World Cup triumph
Black Ferns celebrate their 2017 World Cup triumph. Photo credit: Getty

The Kiwis again met England in the final and made no mistake, with Toka Natua scoring a hat-trick of ties in a 41-32 win for their fifth crown.

Winger Portia Woodman scored 13 tries across the tournament to emerge as top pointscorer.

New Zealand beat Wales 44-12, beat Hong Kong 121-0, beat Canada 48-3, beat USA 45-12, beat England 41-32