Women's Rugby World Cup outright predictions: Hosts can edge out England
The delayed women's Rugby World Cup looks set to be a landmark tournament with the competition expected to be followed by its biggest-ever audience.
As the much-anticipated event prepares for kick-off in New Zealand on Saturday, here's a look at the potential challengers for the biggest prize of them all in women's rugby union.
England the team to beat
Before a pass or tackle is made, England are the firm favourites to win the title for the third time in their history.
The Red Roses have lifted the trophy in both 1994 and, most recently, in 2014 when they managed to beat Canada 21-9 in the final.
England have also had their fair share of World Cup heartbreak in the past too, having lost in the final on five previous occasions.
The English are currently ranked as the top side in the world and have held that position since back in November 2020.
It is understandable to see why England are the heavy favourites, with a 73-7 win over Wales in September seeing the Red Roses make it a record-breaking 25th Test win on the bounce.
With their last defeat coming back in July 2019, skipper Sarah Hunter and her side could take some stopping in New Zealand.
New Zealand continuing turnaround
After a tough run that saw coach Glenn Moore resign from his position in April, the experienced tactician Wayne Smith has overseen a turnaround in charge of New Zealand.
With the nickname of 'The Professor', Smith will be hoping to come up with a masterplan to help the Black Ferns retain the World Cup title on home soil.
The former All Blacks and Northampton Saints boss has seen his side go on a six-game winning streak ahead of their World Cup opener against old rivals Australia in Auckland on Saturday.
A positive start in that game could well see the tournament hosts build up some winning momentum as they should have little trouble getting past Wales and Scotland in their group.
France the potential dark horses
France are also expected to be in the mix as Annick Hayraud's side prepare to take on England, South Africa and Fiji in Group C.
In this recent period of English domination, France have provided the Red Roses with some of their biggest challenges.
The French will have a good acid test to see how they stack up against the tournament favourites, when they face England in Whangarei on October 15.
England, who are 1/2 to win the tournament, and New Zealand are the two favourites and they should be the sides challenging at the business end of the competition.
With home advantage and the arrival of Smith to hand them a boost, the Black Ferns look to be good value at 15/8 to lift the trophy for a sixth time in their history.