As illustrated in the graphic below, the top seven ranked teams from the previous Rugby World Cup tournament, in Ireland in 2017, qualified directly for RWC 2021. These teams were champions New Zealand, runners-up England, bronze medallists France, losing semi-finalists USA along with Canada, Australia and Wales who finished fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
Those seven teams will be joined in New Zealand by five other teams who emerge from the global qualification process: one from Africa, one from Asia, one from Europe, one from Oceania and the winner of the Final Qualification Tournament, which will feature four teams with a second chance to qualify. This is the first time in women’s Rugby World Cup history that a repechage has been part of the qualification process.
How teams qualified
Africa - South Africa were the first to emerge from the qualification process, beating Madagascar, Uganda and Kenya to win the inaugural Rugby Africa Women’s Cup title in August 2019. Runners-up Kenya remain in the hunt and will face a play-off against Colombia for a place in the Final Qualification Tournament. South Africa have previously played in three Rugby World Cups, the last in 2014.
Oceania - Fijiana created history in November 2019 by qualifying for a Rugby World Cup for the first time in the 15s format, beating Samoa twice in little more than a week to claim Oceania’s spot at New Zealand 2021. Samoa will have another chance to qualify via the Final Qualification Tournament after beating Tonga 40-0 in Auckland in November 2020.
Asia - Japan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan have all played on the Rugby World Cup stage and will be hoping to claim the Asia 1 spot in Pool B by winning the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship. The runner-up will join Samoa in the Final Qualification Tournament.
Europe - Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Spain – the winner of the Rugby Europe Women's Championship 2020 – will meet in the region's final qualification step. The winner will take their place in Pool B, with the runner-up given another chance in the Final Qualification Tournament.
Final Qualification Tournament - The runners-up from the Oceania (Samoa), Asia and Europe regions will be joined by the winner of Kenya's play-off with Colombia for a first in women's Rugby World Cup history, a second chance to qualify for RWC 2021.