Rugby World Cup: Why 2022 tournament's legacy is about much more than winning for Black Ferns

The New Zealand-hosted Rugby World Cup is about so much more than the here-and-now for the Black Ferns - it's about paving the way for the next generation to shine on the world stage.

The Black Ferns will step out onto a sold-out Eden Park on Saturday night, beginning their title defence against Australia in front of a world record crowd for a women's test match.

It will end a five-year wait for the Black Ferns to partake in the major tournament, with the standard four years between Rugby World Cups supplemented by an additional 13-month delay due to COVID-19.

Ruahei Demant and Wayne Smith.
Ruahei Demant and Wayne Smith. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

But come kick-off, the Black Ferns will have their first opportunity to win a World Cup on home soil - to go with five won abroad.

And for co-captain Ruahei Demant, the chance to play in front of sellout crowds, at home, will be a pivotal moment in the future of the game in New Zealand - aiming to light the way for those to come.

What's more, this World Cup as well as the growth of the game at all levels can see New Zealand close the gap on European teams where women's rugby is played professionally.

"To think this World Cup here in Aotearoa is going to inspire the next generation of Black Ferns, the next generation of future stars - and we can be part of that legacy - it's a huge responsibility, but also a huge honour," she said.

"I'm hoping that it can inspire the next generation of future Black Ferns and future All Blacks."

Demant, 27, is one of 17 players who'll make her Rugby World Cup debut on Saturday, with few survivors from the 2017 tournament.

"In the long run, I'm hoping this World Cup in Aotearoa can level the playing field between men and women," she said.

"[It's] something that is constantly spoken about and is being done overseas, but hasn't been done or achieved yet here in Aotearoa - especially with rugby.

Co-captains Ruahei Demant and Kennedy Simon with the Rugby World Cup.
Co-captains Ruahei Demant and Kennedy Simon with the Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

"I hope that's the legacy of this World Cup."

The 2017 World Cup, held in Ireland, had Demant watching as a fan, before making her debut nearly a year later.

And the chance to not only play in a World Cup but lead the team as well, isn't lost on the Black Ferns' first-five.

But while some would shy away from the pressure, Demant and the Black Ferns are grateful for it.

"I remember back in 2017, supporting this team - as did many of the girls who are here," Demant continued.

"It never ever crossed my mind that I'd be playing in the next World Cup, let alone leading this team."

She added it's a "huge honour - it's very humbling".

"But that responsibility is also there as well, to enhance the mana, enhance the legacy of this team.

"It's pressure but it's a privileged pressure. To be able to do that here in front of our fans, in front of our whanau, we're very, very lucky."

A capacity of 40,000 will pack into Eden Park for Saturday's tournament-opening matches, seeing South Africa meet France and England against Fiji before the Black Ferns' trans-Tasman clash.

The sellout means a record crowd for a women's sporting event in New Zealand and more than double the previous attendance record for a women's World Cup.

"It's quite unbelievable thinking women's sport has sold out Eden Park," said Demant. "I don't think any of us could have imagined this at all. Especially with the lead-up, the setbacks, the challenges."

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener.