EVEN though England and New Zealand are the favourites, America must be in line to reach their third successive World Cup final, writes Stephen Jones. They will avoid both sides until the final if results go with seedings.
Women's rugby has thrived in America for de cades. They have 10,000 reg istered adult women players, more than any other compet ing nation.
Only England, with 9,000, and Canada with 8,000 have remotely near that number.
Sweden, with only 100, have the smallest playing base.
The Americans featured in both the first two World Cup finals. They won the inaugu ral tournament in Cardiff in 1991, beating England 19-6 in the final, thanks to the bril liance of their backs.
Three years later in Edin burgh, England cashed in on scrummage power to gain revenge, winning 38-23.
The dark horses among the home countries are Scot land, who completed a memorable grand slam in the recent home nations champ ionship, beating England in Edinburgh.
Wales, who ran England closer than the 29-12 scoreline suggests in their home na tions match, face a tough opening assignment against Spain, who have recently beaten both Ireland and France.
The Irish have also to negotiate a strong pool, which includes France, Australia and Kazakhstan, a team comprising chiefly of army personnel.
Australia and Germany are the two teams playing in the World Cup for the first time.
WORLD CUP Pool A: England, Canada, Holland, Sweden.
Pool B: America, Spain, Wales, Russia.
Pool C: France, Australia, Ireland, Kazakhstan.
Pool D: New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Germany.
FIXTURES May 1: Opening ceremony and Holland v Canada May 2: England v Sweden; US v Russia; Spain v Wales; France v Kazakhstan; Australia v Ireland; New Zealand v Germany; Scotland v Italy.
May 5: Remaining pool matches:
May 9: Quarter-finals May 12: Semi-finals May 15: Plate and Shield finals May 16 : Final.
All matches take place at the Nat ional Rugby Centre, Amsterdam
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998
Jones, Stephen. "America in sight of third cup final; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 26 Apr. 1998