TORONTO — Canada will be tested early at next year's Women's Rugby World Cup, placed in Pool A with New Zealand, Wales and a qualifier.
The 12-team World Cup runs Aug. 9-26, with the pool stages in Dublin and the semifinal and final in Belfast.
The Canadian women, who were runners-up to England at the 2014 tournament, are currently ranked second in the world. New Zealand is No. 1 and Wales No. 10.
The Canadian pool will be completed by the runner-up of the Asia/Oceania qualifying tournament Dec. 9-17 in Hong Kong involving No. 17 Japan, No. 23 Hong Kong and No. 30 Fiji.
No. 3 England was drawn in Pool B with the seventh-ranked Americans, No. 8 Italy and either No. 9 Spain or No. 13 Scotland.
Pool C features No. 4 France, No. 5 Ireland, No. 6 Australia and the winner of next month's Asia/Oceania qualifier.
The Canadian women also faced a tough foe early at the last tournament.
Canada and England tied 14-14 in the pool stage two years ago, with England winning the group and Canada placing second. Both teams advanced to the knockout round, with England ultimately defeating Canada 21-9 in the final.
Because of the tournament format, there is almost no room for error.
"We had this experience at the last one," Canadian coach Francois Ratier said in an interview. "It's really really tough to go through, because you need to finish first (in your pool) or best second (-place finisher)."
The Canadians will see how they measure up against New Zealand when the two teams meet Nov. 23 in London. Canada is also playing Ireland (Nov. 19) and England (Nov. 26) on its November tour.
New Zealand has won the Women's World Cup four times — in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. The Black Ferns finished fifth last time out after being upset by Ireland.
"They're back where they were," Ratier said of the New Zealand women.
Canada lost 40-22 to the Black Ferns in 2015 and 16-8 and 33-21 in 2014.
The European tour squad includes four veterans of the sevens program who have moved back to the 15-man game: Kelly Russell, Magali Harvey, Karen Paquin and Elissa Alarie.
With the sevens and 15s squads separate, Ratier believes he has the best 15s squad available to him.
The Canadian women are coming off an impressive showing at the Women's Rugby Super Series in Salt Lake City in July, defeating England 52-17, the U.S. 33-5 and France 29-10.
Wednesday's pool allocation draw took place in Belfast City Hall.
"The last Women's Rugby World Cup in France was a watershed moment for the women's game, with record crowds and massive TV audiences watching across the world," said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. "There are some fantastic matches in store in August and, with over two million women and girls currently playing the sport, I have no doubt that next year's Women's Rugby World Cup in Dublin and Belfast will be a fantastic event and encourage many more women and girls to get involved with the sport."
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.