By Gareth James
Siwan Lillicrap reckons next year’s Rugby World Cup will take the women’s game to a new level.
The Wales skipper admitted she was excited at the prospect of facing reigning champions New Zealand.
Wales have been drawn in the same group as the hosts, Australia and the final qualification winner for the tournament which runs from 18 September to 16 October.
“The tournament could be one of the first major team sporting events after the pandemic and I’m sure it will galvanise the sport and generate a huge step-up in profile for the women’s game,” sid Lillicrap.
“The hard work starts now but knowing the rewards waiting for us include playing the likes of New Zealand and Australia makes that so much easier.
“We are looking forward to getting started with our new coaches Warren (Abrahams) and Rachel (Taylor).”
The tournament, with New Zealand looking for a sixth title, takes place Auckland’s Eden Park, Waitakere Stadium and Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre.
Lillicrap added: “It will be great to test ourselves against southern hemisphere teams that we don’t get to play very often, and to play New Zealand as hosts will be something very special.
“We played them in 2017, they are current champions and a real benchmark in the sport. It can only be good for us and what better place to rise to that challenge than New Zealand.
“Knowing two of three of our Pool opponents really focusses the mind and gives us a target to prepare for.”
New Wales Women skills coach Taylor, who took part in the live draw show virtually, said, “The draw was fantastic in itself and shows the lengths New Zealand are going to in order to make the tournament a huge success.
“Playing the hosts New Zealand is huge. When we played hosts France to open the 2014 tournament, the atmosphere for the players was epic and it will be the same for our players next year.
“We all know about the quality New Zealand will bring, they have consistently been the best team in the world for a number of years.
“It will be incredibly tough but it’s all about our mindset now. Australia will be another hugely exciting match. We’ve had some great encounters against each other, they are always physical and can be ruthless on their day.
“Having the draw just makes it all very real and brings that injection of urgency and excitement about rugby matches that is very welcome after the year we’ve all had.”