Fijiana and South Africa find themselves in Pool C at Rugby World Cup 2021, played in 2022, alongside the two strongest teams in Europe, England and France.
The form book suggested the all-conquering Red Roses and Les Bleues will be battling it out for the top two places that guarantee safe passage through to the quarter-finals, with Fijiana and South Africa bidding to be one of the two best third-placed teams who will join them in the knockout stages.
However, both teams are fast emerging as ones to watch and will be taken lightly at their peril. England almost came unstuck to the Springbok Women nine years ago and will need no reminding of the threat they can pose.
Playing on the game’s biggest stage will certainly not overawe the Springbok Women, whose last competitive fixture, a 60-5 defeat to the Barbarian Women at Twickenham was watched by nearly 30,000 fans inside the stadium and the millions of viewers at home watching on the BBC.
That game in November was the last time they took to the field in competitive action but more games, yet to be announced, are in the pipeline between now and the start of the Rugby World Cup in October.
As for Fijiana, they came out of the recent Tri-Series in Australia with plenty of credit, doing the country proud despite losing 28-14 to Japan and 36-19 to Australia – both teams considerably higher up the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
It may be their debut at the women’s Rugby World Cup but they are an emerging force in the game and will want to continue the forward momentum in New Zealand.
South Africa have the honour of playing in the opening game against France at the iconic Eden Park, on Saturday 8 October, followed by the other Pool C match, England versus Fiji, in what is the first-ever meeting between the teams.
South Africa and France have met four times previously, the first of them on neutral ground in Canada when the Springbok Women held their more celebrated opponents to a 17-17 draw at the Women’s Nations Cup in August 2009.
The teams then met twice in 2014, with France triumphant in both. A month after they had beaten the Springbok Women 46-8 in a Rugby World Cup warm-up, Les Bleues won 55-3 at the tournament itself. Both matches were played at the French Rugby Federation (FFR) headquarters in Marcoussis.
The only other meeting came in last year’s November Internationals when the scoreline was 46-3 in France’s favour.
Eight days later, Fijiana and South Africa face each other for the first time, in a contest that promises to be a real contrast of styles, at the Waitakere Stadium in Auckland
Fiji’s final pool game sees them play France for the first time at the Northland Events Centre in Whangarei, on Saturday 22 October, while South Africa have an extra day’s rest before tackling hot favourites England at the same venue.
South Africa and England’s history stretches back to May 2005 when England emerged as convincing 101-0 winners at Imber Court in London. That remains an all-time Red Roses record win and is also South Africa’s heaviest-ever defeat to this day.
The following year South Africa kept the scoreline down to 74-8 when the sides met at Rugby World Cup 2006 in Edmonton, Wendy Khumalo scoring the Springbok Women’s first try in the fixture.
The next three meetings came at the Women’s Nations Cup, hosted by Canada.
England won the first two encounters, 25-0 in 2009 and 46-8 in 2011, but South Africa almost pulled off what would have been one of the biggest shocks in women’s rugby history in the third and most recent encounter in 2013.
A brace of tries from Zenay Jordaan and one from Nolusindiso Booi gave South Africa the lead in the first half. But Rocky Clark shattered any dreams they might have had of pulling off a famous victory with a late winner as the Red Roses sneaked an 18-17 win.