Women's Rugby World Cup postponed until 2022

This year's women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is set to be pushed back until next year due to the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, World Rugby said on Tuesday.

"World Rugby has made the difficult decision to recommend the postponement of Rugby World Cup 2021, scheduled to be hosted in New Zealand between 18 September-16 October, until next year," World Rugby said in a statement.

"The recommendation will be considered by the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee on 8 and 9 March respectively."

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Last month, the delayed tournament was rescheduled for April with games expected across four weekends in a new-playoff style format.

The tournament will be the first women's Rugby World Cup to be held in the southern hemisphere, and is due to feature New Zealand, England, Canada, France, Australia, United States, Wales, South Africa, Fiji and three qualifiers.

The hosts are hoping to break the record for attendance at a women's Rugby World Cup, with the 44,000-capacity Eden Park in Auckland scheduled to host the opening match, semifinal and final.

"World Rugby can assure teams, New Zealanders and the global rugby family that the recommendation to postpone the tournament will help to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2021 will be all it can be next year for players, fans and the rugby family - one of the great Rugby World Cups," World Rugby said.

Irish Rugby's director of women's rugby Anthony Eddy said the news was a devastating blow for his team, which was due to play in a qualifying tournament in the coming weeks.

"We're obviously disappointed," said Eddy. "We want to play rugby. The Rugby World Cup deserves every opportunity to showcase the best that our sport has to offer and that's not possible in the COVID-19 environment."

With 5 million people, New Zealand has recorded just over 2,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, and 26 deaths.

Fresh novel coronavirus cases have emerged in the country more recently, however, with Auckland entering lockdown for the second time in a month last weekend.

"We are naturally disappointed but understanding of the decision," said Nicky Ponsford, the head of women's performance at England's Rugby Football Union.

"Player welfare has to be prioritised and ensuring teams both qualify on the pitch and can perform to their best at the tournament is also vitally important for the game."

New Zealand are the current holders, having defeated England 41-32 in the final in Belfast in 2017.