• Reuters

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Host and reigning champion New Zealand will take on neighbor Australia at Auckland’s Eden Park on the opening night of the women’s Rugby World Cup in September, organizers said on Friday.

The hosts will be hoping for a bumper crowd for a triple-header at the 44,000-seater stadium on Sept. 18 to kick-start a monthlong tournament which organizers hope will break attendance records for the women’s rugby showpiece.

New Zealand’s Black Ferns, who have won five of the eight World Cups to date, will take on the Wallaroos after France-South Africa and England-Fiji clashes at the same stadium.

The United States, semifinalists four years ago in France, will open the tournament at Northlands Events Centre earlier in the day against a European nation yet to qualify for the 12-team event.

“We are excited to have such a compelling and exhilarating mix of match contestants in the opening weekend,” said Tournament Director Michelle Hooper.

“It will give fans a taste of the excitement from the first kickoff and have them hooked to attend or watch every match of the tournament, in a schedule that promises to deliver an action-packed and intense competition.”

Eden Park, which hosted the 1987 and 2011 men’s World Cup finals, will also stage the last four matches of the tournament, culminating in the final on Oct. 16.

“I remember how cool Rugby World Cup 2011 was and never dreamt that I would get the opportunity to play at a World Cup on home soil … it is going to be amazing,” said Black Ferns skipper Eloise Blackwell.

“It has been a massive few years for women’s sport in our country and we hope the public really get in behind the tournament.”

New Zealand, which has been highly successful in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, will also co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with Australia.

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