20 Dec, 16:42
Ireland Women's captain Fiona Coghlan, who led the squad to an historic Grand Slam in 2013, has won the Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year award.
The announcement is a major development for the tournament which has grown from an invitational event to one with an ever-growing qualification process and record broadcast and attendance figures.
England 2010 captured the imagination of fans in the UK and across the world owing to the high level of competition.
The newly-designed qualification process will feature the leading existing regional women's tournaments from around the globe to ensure that the world's best teams are represented at the showcase event.
There are six automatic qualifiers for the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup - reigning world champions New Zealand, 2010 runners-up England, 2010 bronze medallists Australia, 2014 hosts France and both the USA and Canada by virtue of their top six placing at the 2010 tournament.
The RBS Women's 6 Nations will kickstart the global qualification process when Ireland take on Wales on Friday, February 3 in Ashbourne RFC.
The process will bridge both the 2012 and 2013 Championships with the two-highest placed teams on aggregate, outside of automatic qualifiers England and France, securing places at France 2014.
The two other teams from the Women's 6 Nations, plus the highest ranked teams in Europe, will be joined by a team from Oceania in a Women's Rugby World Cup qualification tournament in 2013.
Reflecting the significant growth of Women's rugby in Africa, the continent will host a qualification tournament for the first time with the burgeoning Elgon Cup in 2013 used to determine the play-off opponent for South Africa, who have played in the past two Women's Rugby World Cups.
Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "These are exciting times for Women's rugby. The Women's Rugby World Cup is the premier event in the Women's game, providing the platform for growing the sport across the world and building on the record broadcast and attendances we saw in London two years ago.
"As we look to France 2014, the qualification process will ensure the very best teams from across the world will meet in Paris, and we have created an opportunity for more teams than ever before to achieve their Rugby World Cup dream."
The expanded qualification process underscores the commitment of the IRB to grow global participation and achieve greater competitiveness as set out in the recently launched IRB Women's Rugby Plan.
IRB Women's Development Manager Susan Carty commented: "With over 200,000 registered women currently playing rugby in over 100 countries around the world, the qualification process reflects the significant and sustained growth we have experienced in recent years in the Women's game.
"We now have an improved tournament structure around the world which reflects the appetite for high level elite competition amongst traditional and emerging nations.
"We have incorporated these existing competitions, wherever possible, into the qualification process in line with the IRB Women's Rugby Plan."