BILL Beaumont has predicted a “defining, record-breaking” Women’s Rugby World Cup as the tournament prepares for kick-off in Ireland.

Twelve nations, led by defending champions England and four-time World Cup winners New Zealand, will contest a competition that is set to attract bumper crowds and television audiences in more than 100 countries.

It is ready to underline just how much women’s rugby has grown since the inaugural World Cup 26 years ago, with Dublin hosting the pool stages before latter rounds – including the August 26 final – switch to Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium.

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“The excitement across the island of Ireland and beyond is phenomenal,” World Rugby chairman Beaumont said.

“The sheer level of social and traditional media anticipation and interest is reflected by the fact tickets for the pool stages are sold out. It all points to what will be a defining, record-breaking Rugby World Cup.

“We are anticipating a competitive, exciting tournament, contested by outstanding players, and I am sure that all who experience Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in stadia, at home and on the move will be talking about an outstanding event.

“This is a tournament that will have players and fans at heart. Its legacy is set to reach beyond the profile it attracts, or economic impact it delivers.

“That legacy will be real, meaningful and tangible for the wider development of the sport through its pillars of performance, participation, leadership, profile and investment.”

England, world-ranked No 1 nation, start as favourites.

They include more than a dozen World Cup 2014 survivors – England won the tournament by beating Canada in Paris – while Danielle Waterman, Rachel Burford, Rochelle Clark and Tamara Taylor feature in their fourth successive global spectacular.

That vast experience, allied to the match-winning prowess of players like Emily Scarratt and Kay Wilson, could take England all the way, provided they emerge unscathed from a pool that also includes the United States, Spain and Italy.

The top four-ranked teams after three rounds of pool action will contest the semi-finals, and if current world rankings are an accurate guide, then England and New Zealand will be joined in the last four by Canada and France.

The tournament begins today, with England launching the event against Spain at Dublin’s UCD Bowl, while other first day highlights include Ireland tackling Australia and Wales facing New Zealand.