Coach: Wayne Smith
Captain: Ruahei Demant and Kennedy Simon
World Cup best: Winners 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017
As hosts and five-time champions, the Black Ferns were favourites until the pandemic hit and disrupted their game time. Their Tests against England in 2021, where they suffered two successive record losses to the Red Roses, were their first international fixtures in two years. But New Zealand are back in firing form with staggering scorelines in their warm-up matches. The winger Portia Woodman has particularly stood out, scoring seven tries in the 95-12 demolition of Japan last month. They are capable of successfully defending their title and should come out as pool winners with a tasty treat coming against Australia.
Coach: Jay Tregonning
Captain: Shannon Parry
World Cup best: Third place, 2010
Australia are not heading into their opening game against New Zealand with results on their side. They have won once since Jay Tregonning was appointed in September 2021, the victory coming against Fiji in May. They have gone on to lose six games in a row, three at the hands of New Zealand. They may struggle to finish third in the group and with only two third-placed teams going through to the quarter-finals, determined on competition points, their campaign could end at the pool stage. The wing Bienne Terita could be their secret weapon, though, after she scored two tries on her debut against New Zealand in August.
Coach: Ioan Cunningham
Captain: Siwan Lillicrap
World Cup best: Fourth place, 1994
This will be the first World Cup Wales play in as professionals. Full-time and part-time contracts were introduced in January with more offered later in the year. The impact was instantaneous as Wales finished third in the Six Nations – their best result since 2009. However, they haven’t registered a victory since beating Scotland in the Six Nations in April, losing both warm-up matches against Canada and England. They will be happy to get out of the group and with players such as wing Jasmine Joyce and flanker Alisha Butchers, who was named Wales Women Player of the Year in June, they have a good chance of doing so.
Coach: Bryan Easson
Captain: Rachel Malcolm
World Cup best: Quarter-finals, 1994
Scotland’s reaction to qualifying for the World Cup in September told you everything you need to know about what this tournament means to them. It is their first time competing on the world stage since 2010 and the likes of No 8 Jade Konkel will be eager to make it a tournament to remember. While they did lose their last match, a friendly against the USA in August, they showed promise. It will be a direct contest with Wales and Australia for second place in the pool with Scotland’s biggest match likely to be against the Welsh. The women in red claimed the win over them in the Six Nations.
Coach: Kevin Rouet
Captain: Sophie de Goede
World Cup best: Runners-up, 2014
Canada should top their pool and so increase their chances of reaching the semi-finals as they would probably avoid New Zealand and England in the quarters. While they will face fierce opposition in their pool, Canada are ranked third in the world and have World Cup final experience on their side that should allow them to clinch top spot. The team is also stacked full of seasoned players with nine, including the scrumhalf Brianna Miller and flanker Karen Paquin, having World Cup experience. They also head into the tournament off the back of a promising summer, including a win over the USA.
Coach: Rob Cain
Captain: Kate Zackary
World Cup best: Winners, 1991
Kate Zackary steered the USA to a pair of great warm-up wins, despite their thumping loss to England. They bagged victories over Australia and Scotland in the summer with defeats to the Red Roses and New Zealand challenging them before attempting to find their way out of a tricky pool. Their biggest task will be against Canada, who are three spots higher than them in the world rankings; the USA are sixth. The Americans will be targeting a top pool spot as they seek their first World Cup silverware since 1991.
Coach: Andrea Di Giandomenico
Captain: Elisa Giordano
World Cup best: Ninth place play-off, 2017
Italy had a disappointing 2022 Six Nations when finishing fifth, their worst result since 2016. They had more trouble in the summer with a 21-0 defeat to France but bounced back to claim a 26-19 win against their neighbours, which took them to fifth in the world rankings, their highest position. On top of this confidence-boost, the veteran Manuela Furlan has been named in their squad after sustaining an injury. Her versatility and leadership will be invaluable to the side as they navigate a difficult pool.
Coach: Lesley McKenzie
Captain: Saki Minami
World Cup best: Quarter-finals, 1994
The lowest-ranked side will have the toughest time getting out of the pool. Japan are 13th in the world but are capable of shock upsets, so should not be underestimated. In the build-up to the tournament they beat Ireland, Australia and Fiji. Lesley McKenzie, a former Canadian international, made it clear what the team want to achieve: “I’m really looking forward to seeing performances from the team that make the rugby world stand up and take notice of what this team can do.” The squad is relatively inexperienced, with backrow Seina Saito the most capped with 31.
Coach: Simon Middleton
Captain: Sarah Hunter
World Cup best: Winners, 1994 and 2014
The Red Roses are the favourites and anything but a trophy win will be a disappointment as they boast a 25-game winning streak. They became the first Test team to reach that mark in their warm-up matches, the record win coming against Wales last month. With talents such as vice-captain and centre Emily Scarratt, and the World Rugby’s Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft, their dominance over the past few years should see them sail to the final. First up, though, could be their toughest test against old rivals France, the last team to beat them.
Coach: Thomas Darracq
Captain: Gaëlle Hermet
World Cup best: Third place 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2014
France should comfortably get out of the pool, albeit behind England. Le Crunch will be the biggest match for both sides but the Red Roses should beat the French. The challenge for France is to convert the opportunities they create for themselves and use the individual brilliance of scrumhalf Laure Sansus to full advantage. Sansus scored six tries at the 2022 Six Nations, the most of any player, and will be counted on even more so after the shock omission of the wing Caroline Boujard. While they head into the tournament after a surprise defeat to Italy in the summer, France certainly have the confidence to muscle their way to the quarters.
Coach: Stanley Raubenheimer
Captain: Nolusindiso Booi
World Cup best: Ninth place play-off, 2010 and 2014
South Africa’s match against Fiji is their biggest in the pool with the side aiming to secure third spot behind France and England. South Africa come into the tournament with some solid results: a series draw against Japan and two wins over Spain. They also boast experience in captain and lock Nolusindiso Booi and outhalf Zenay Jordaan, who will both be competing in their third World Cup. Coach Stanley Raubenheimer says: “We have our objectives and one of them is to not only make the country proud with our effort, but ourselves as well.”
Coach: Senirusi Seruvakula
Captain: Sereima Leweniqila
World Cup best: Debut
Fiji are competing at their first World Cup and are somewhat of an unknown. The unpredictability of their matches is heightened, too, as it will be the first time they have played any of the teams within the pool. They come into the tournament off a title-winning Oceania Championship when they set a record 152-0 win over Papua New Guinea. One to look out for in particular is the lock Asinate Serevi, daughter of sevens player Waisale, who switched to Fiji under World Rugby’s new laws after playing for the USA.