WELLINGTON (Reuters) - England captain Sarah Hunter had a funny feeling before the draw for next year's women's Rugby World Cup that her top-ranked side would be paired with France, a team they meet in an international in London on Saturday.
Hunter's side, second seeds in the draw, were grouped with France in Pool C, while hosts New Zealand will meet trans-Tasman rivals Australia in Pool A and third-ranked Canada face the United States in Pool B.
"I just had this gut feeling we were going to be drawn against France, I don't know what it was about it," Hunter said in a statement on Friday.
"When we played them in the semi-final of the last World Cup it was probably one of the most physically demanding games that I've played in," she added of the 20-3 win in Belfast in 2017.
"If we want to win the World Cup we're going to have to play the best teams along the way so if they're in our pool that is what we focus on to get out of our pool."
The cut-throat nature of the 12-team tournament means that the three pool winners advance to the semi-finals, with the fourth spot taken by the best-placed runner-up.
The format has led to major upsets with New Zealand failing to qualify for the semi-finals in 2014, while Canada faced a similar predicament in 2017.
An audible gasp from the 400-strong crowd at the central-Auckland venue was heard when the hosts were drawn in the same pool as Australia, although Wallaroos fullback Lori Cramer thought it would be just another typical trans-Tasman battle.
"I heard a bit of a giggle in the crowd there when our ball got drawn (with New Zealand), so that's good," Cramer said.
"I think whether it's a friendly or a World Cup game between Australia and New Zealand it's always a cracker."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ed Osmond)