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Thursday, August 06, 2009

World Cup: Winner to take all in Apia

By the time tomorrow dawns here the result of one of most unpredictable and important women's internationals for many a year will have taken place.

In the early hours of Saturday, our time, Samoa take on Australia in a one-off winner-takes-all qualifier for the World Cup. Both teams were at the last two World Cup, finishing 9th and 7th respectively in Barcelona in 2002 and 10th and 8th in Edmonton in 2006 - performances that would have been good enough to ensure automatic qualification in some parts of the world but, with Oceania losing a place to Europe this time round, something has to give and one of these sides will be sitting at home in 2010.

The Oceania qualifier was meant to be a four team tournament, but with the withdrawal of Papua New Guinea following hard on the heels of the Fiji RFU's refusal to enter (a decision taken without even consulting their women's section, from what I hear) it has all come down to one match - as, in all honesty, it would have anyway even if the other teams had taken part.

There is simply no guide to how this will go. Remarkably the two teams have never met before - Oceania never having had a regional tournament of their own (they have met four times at Sevens since 1999 - Australia winning on each occasion by ever increasing margins - though that is no guide to XVs).

Samoa have played no internationals at all since the 2006 World Cup, but that is not unusual as they have only ever played 13 times since their first game in 2000, and nine of those games were World Cup fixtures. However, Australia are hardly much more experienced - only 26 games since they began in 1994, and only four since Edmonton - all against New Zealand, all lost by between 8 and 34 points. Even home advantage for Samoa will count for little as most of their players will probably come from off the island. As for the players, Matt Giteau's sister, Kirsty, is making her test debut for Australia along with a few of others - of the Samoans, no news at all.

The only thing that can be said is that the loser will suffer a major blow which will probably mean little or no XVs rugby for them for the next four years or more. While the like of the Six Nations and North American teams forge ahead the rest of the world is getting left further and further behind. If ever there was a priority for women's rugby at the IRB it is this - otherwise you wonder when 2014 comes around whether there will be any replies at all from the South Seas (New Zealand excepted, of course).

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