Women’s Rugby World Cup: 10 things about the 2017 tournament in Ireland

Emily Scarratt hands of a Canada defender
Emily Scarratt was one of the stars as England beat Canada to win the 2014 World Cup final
Women's Rugby World Cup
Venues: Dublin and Belfast Dates: 9-26 August
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, Radio Ulster medium wave and text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

The eighth Women's Rugby World Cup begins on Wednesday with England looking to defend the title they won in 2014.

The tournament runs on a four-year cycle but has been brought forward a year to avoid clashing with the Sevens World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2018.

The pool stages in Dublin are already sold out, debutants Hong Kong provide a compelling underdog story plus England and New Zealand are packed with talent - so what else do you need to know about the 2017 tournament?

Champions England are in prime form

As reigning world champions and the number one side in the world rankings, everyone wants to knock England off their perch.

But the Red Roses are in confident mood heading into the tournament, having beaten perennial rivals New Zealand away from home in June, and will be the only team in Ireland who have trained full-time since January.

Despite recent confirmation that full-time contracts for XVs are ending, the team have known since April and say they won't let anything disrupt their defence of the title.

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New Zealand's Portia Woodman is back

The 26-year-old flyer has petrified players on the sevens field for years, with her stunning side-step and raw speed seeing her score numerous tries, and the Olympic silver medallist and former World Sevens Player of the Year has now switched her focus back to XVs.

The daughter and niece of former All Blacks, her rugby pedigree runs deep and whether on the wing or in the centres, she will be one of the most potent threats over the next two and a half weeks.

Wales are in the group of death

There are two tough pools in this World Cup and Wales, ranked 10th in the world, have arguably found themselves in the toughest.

Pool A sees them line up alongside four-time champions New Zealand and 2014 runners-up Canada, the sides ranked number two and three in the world.

The fourth team are debutants Hong Kong, who are ranked 23rd, and although Wales will hope to beat them, can they upset the other two sides?

Can Olympic sevens champions Australia deliver in XVs?

Australia's victorious sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Australia won gold in the abbreviated form of the game in Rio but they look unlikely to triumph in Ireland

The Wallaroos won the first ever Olympic sevens gold medal in Rio but XVs has never been their strong point, and with their focus on the shorter form of the game they have only played a handful of Tests in XVs since the last World Cup.

Captain Shannon Parry, who tasted success in Rio, says they're underdogs but thinks it makes them more dangerous as the pressure is off.

Get ready for a party atmosphere

The pool stages in Dublin are already sold out and fans are trying to get hold of tickets by any means. A party atmosphere is being predicted, and those lucky enough to have tickets will be able to enjoy a fan zone as well as the rugby.

France have the support, but can they deliver?

After just two weekends of the Six Nations in February, 2.2 million fans had tuned in to watch the women's Championship.

But at the last World Cup in Paris, 2.5 million viewers watched the France v Canada semi-final on TV and it is no mistake that Les Bleus' kick-offs are all prime-time back home. Can they deliver this time for their supporters?

Safi N'Diaye scores against Scotland
Can number eight Safi N'Diaye help France improve on their third place in 2014?

Hong Kong's tough test

It's a first for Hong Kong - no team of either sex has ever qualified for a World Cup previously. Don't expect the team to be all smiles though - they've been drawn in Pool A with Canada, New Zealand and Wales. Gulp.

Italy are back after a 15-year absence

The Italians are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2002. Now ranked ninth in the world, it is also the first time they have qualified by right, as previously they were invited to take part. Much credit goes to the patient pair of Veronica Schiavon and Sylvia Gaudino, who played back in 2002 and have been selected again for 2017.

Canada's prime minister is backing his team

Most teams get good luck messages before heading overseas for big tournaments - the Black Ferns had one from two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. But surely one from Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau tops the lot. We can't see British Prime Minister Theresa May encouraging players to "stick a tackle"!

Hosts Ireland are contenders

In 2014, Ireland's women became the first Irish side to make a Rugby World Cup semi-final and they are aiming to make at least the last four once again.

Hopes are that home advantage in 2017 will propel them even further, but they need a change in fortune after losing captain Niamh Briggs to injury less than a fortnight before the start of the tournament.

If they are to lift the trophy in Belfast on 26 August, they will have to do so without their inspirational full-back and leader.

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